|Day 1 – Suffolk, England to San Jose, Costa Rica
Continental flight to Newark, NJ then on to San Jose.
Today’s bird list: 3 (American Herring Gull, House Sparrow, Feral Pigeon)
|Fasciated Tiger-Heron on the Rio San Jose|
|Blue-crowned Motmot in the hotel garden in San Jose|
|Rain. La Selva|
|Great Curassow. Scarce and usually difficult to see but tame at La Selva|
|Semiplumbeous Hawk and unfortunate bat sp.|
|Rufous-tailed Hummingbird at Rancho Naturalista. The most widespread and aggressive hummingbird we encountered|
|The Tuis River, home to Sunbittern|
|Cloud forest at Mirador de Quetzales|
|The Rio Savegre|
|Costa Rican Pygmy Owl|
|I spent 2-and-a-bit weeks in Costa Rica in February/March 2011 with top photographer Bill Baston
Our itinerary took in various habitats and elevations: (the numbers below correspond to those on the map)
1. La Selva Biological Station - lower elevations of the Caribbean slope
2. Rancho Naturalista - middle elevations of the Caribbean slope
3. Savegre Valley - higher elevations
4. Carara National Park and Tarcoles River - forest and Pacific coast
5. Ensenada and Solimar - Pacific coast and lowlands
6. Arenal National Park
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|Costa Rica, February/March 2011
Trip Diary part 1 - La Selva to Savegre
|This Quetzal was viewable from the bar|
|Paramo habitat, home to several specialist species|
|Tourist with bemused female White-throated Mountain-Gem|
|Photographing Resplendent Quetzal with a friendly dog|
|Resplendent Quetzal: male above, female below|
|Day 2 – San Jose to La Selva biological station|
|A beautiful early morning was spent in the hotel garden in San Jose. A few good birds were seen, including our best views of Blue-crowned Motmot, Squirrel Cuckoo, Grayish Saltator, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, some extremely colourful Baltimore Orioles and our only Bronzed Cowbird and Cliff Swallow of the trip. The hotel garden was also the scene of without doubt the funniest moment of the trip. We watched a member of the garden staff dive into thick bushes for no apparent reason, only to emerge with a large and furious possum suspended by the tail, which he dangled about in front of us for a while before releasing. I’m not quite sure what our reaction to this was supposed to be, but I found it highly amusing. The middle of the day was spent negotiating with the car hire man (who was full of useful advice about what to do when you crash etc, refusing to give it a rest even when a White-tailed Kite drifted over the car park, the first of only two on the trip) and then travelling to La Selva biological station on the Caribbean slope. We’d been tipped off about a good spot for Sunbittern on the way to La Selva on the Rio San Jose. The area produced great views of Fasciated Tiger Heron, as well as Ringed, Green and Amazon Kingfishers and Chestnut-mandibled Toucan but no Sunbittern. Nearby Bill skillfully spotted our only White Hawk of the trip perched in a tree as we sped past.|
|As we neared La Selva the weather began to look more and more dubious, an early indication of what was in store over the next couple of days. We managed a bit of birding this afternoon in between torrential downpours, and picked up a few good birds, including very close views of a Tiny Hawk which crashed into a bush by the visitor centre and sat there for a few seconds. A Laughing Falcon sat on a branch near our room for several hours, and among the common species we had our first views of a number of Collared Aracari, Slaty-tailed Trogon, Masked Tityra and Black-cowled Oriole, with Semiplumbeous Hawk and Great Currasow appearing just before it got completely dark. A Great Tinamou was heard calling but we never got close to seeing it. Several Common Pauraque made a decent attempt at getting run over as we drove along the entrance track.
We retired pretty early but sleep was difficult due to almost non-stop heavy rain and fairly extreme humidity!
|Day 3 – La Selva|
|With hundreds of species lurking in the forests around us we rose early and headed out. However this was rendered even more pointless than attempting to sleep by a long spell of torrential rain – the kind of stuff we might get only for a few minutes in England. We got a few shots of a pair of Great Currasow strutting between the dorms before both the birds and ourselves dived for cover from the wet. A Wood Thrush was seen sheltering under a tree as we had breakfast.|
|Things brightened up for a spell later in the day and we got nice shots of Shining Honeycreeper, Semiplumbeous Hawk munching on a bat while being attacked by a Bright-rumped Attila, a closer Laughing Falcon, Slaty-tailed Trogon, 2 Broad-billed Motmot (reacted extremely well to a short blast of the mp3), Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Golden-hooded Tanager etc. Great Green Macaw, Pale-billed Woodpecker, White-winged Becard, White-collared Manakin, Chestnut-headed Oropendola, various Parrots/Parakeets, Rufous-winged Woodpecker and Purple-crowned Fairy were also added to the list. The Great Tinamou was at it again, calling while hidden away in the depths of the forest|
|Day 4 – La Selva to Rancho Naturalista
Disappointingly, early morning birding was largely rained off again. New birds included Violaceous and Black-throated Trogon, Fasciated Antshrike and Long-tailed Tyrant.
After breakfast we headed off to Rancho Naturalista in the hope of a new range of species and some better weather! We stopped off at the Rio San Jose and failed to see Sunbittern again but the Fasciated Tiger Heron was still there.
Well, there were indeed some different birds but the weather continued to be very variable! We spent the afternoon around the gardens and trails of Rancho Naturalista. Several new hummingbird species were soon on show, including Violet-crowned Woodnymph, Brown Violet-ear, Green Thorntail, Green-crowned Brilliant, Green Hermit, Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer, Green-breasted Mango and eventually Snowcap, although the latter never stayed around for more than a few seconds, usually being chased off by a Rufous-tailed Hummingbird. As we headed back towards the lodge we chanced upon one of the finds of the trip in the form of a Common Potoo roosting on a dead tree, the news of which was very welcome to the local guides who had recently seen one hunting nearby but hadn’t found the roosting tree.
|Day 5 - Rancho Naturalista|
|Unfortunately we awoke to heavy rain yet again, though one of the local specialties; a Tawny-chested Flycatcher, was seen right outside our room as we emerged into the damp. When the rain finally abated later in the morning, we headed down to the Tuis River to have another look for Sunbittern. This time we were successful, with a bird seen hunting in the river before flying off downstream. A flock of gorgeous Swallow-tailed Kites, Plain-coloured Tanager and Torrent Tyrannulet were among the birds added to the list in the same area. A second Sunbittern was seen on a nest nearby, and Slaty Spinetail, Black-headed Saltator, Crimson-collared Tanager and Barred Antshrike all put in an appearance.
The rest of the day was spent photographing hummingbirds around the lodge and wandering the trails in between showers. We showed the Common Potoo to a local guide and he helped us find plenty more birds including Mottled Owl, Collared Trogon and White-ruffed Manakin. In the evening we met a group of birders who had just come from Savegre, who reported that the star bird of the area (and possibly Costa Rica as a whole), the Resplendent Quetzal, were being very difficult at the moment... but the weather was OK!
|Day 6 – Rancho Naturalista to Savegre
The now expected early morning downpour didn’t disappoint so early morning birding was again off the agenda. Once it had cleared we spent a bit more time with the hummingbirds before setting off for higher elevations and the Savegre Valley. An Amazon Kingfisher and Green Heron at point blank range by the road away from Rancho was a nice ending to our stay.
|We made good progress towards our next stop in the village of San Gerardo de Dota in the Savegre valley. We stopped at Mirador de Quetzales at KM70 along the road from San Jose to look for our first high elevation species and for our first shot at the most famous bird in the area, the Resplendent Quetzal. A Black-billed Nightingale-Thrush hopped about on the entrance track, and Large-footed Finch, Fiery-throated and Magnificent Hummingbirds and Sooty Robin were all present in the gardens around the lodge buildings. We were accompanied along the trails by a guide from the lodge, and less helpfully, by some French tourists and two dogs. The trails took us under the huge trees of the cloud forest and unsurprisingly given our luck so far, it was raining on and off. A female Volcano Hummingbird on a beautifully crafted moss nest by the path was a charming sight. Eventually we reached a clearing with one large tree in the middle, complete with a female Resplendent Quetzal in the higher branches. Black Guan, Yellow-thighed Finch, Yellowish and Black-capped Flycatchers, Fiery-throated Hummingbird, Sooty-capped Bush-tanager, Black-throated Green, Black-cheeked and Wilson’s Warblers and Slaty Flowerpiercer all appeared as we admired the female Quetzal and searched for the male, which soon appeared and fully lived up to it’s reputation despite being a long way up in the tree. Images of the Quetzal are plastered all over signs in the area so it would be easy for the real thing to be something of an anticlimax after all the build up but they are truly fantastic birds.
We battled back to the car (via an obliging Collared Redstart) and completed the last part of the journey down to San Gerardo de Dota exhausted but happy to have the Quetzal in the bag.
|Day 7 - Savegre|
|The Quetzal encounter of the previous day only succeeded in making us more determined to get some good photos of the species, so we were out early staking out a small tree which had been favoured by a Quetzal for the past few days... with 20-30 other people. Eventually a pair appeared a bit further back down the road and allowed reasonable views, though the scrum was a bit too much like a British twitch, aside the numerous accents on show including American, Spanish, English, Dutch, Scandinavian, German and French!|
|The middle of the day was spent exploring the trails above the Savegre Mountain Hotel, where notable birds included an awesome cinnamon-coloured Costa Rican Pygmy Owl, some relatively close Swallow-tailed Kites, Acorn Woodpecker, Buffy Tuftedcheek, Rufous-browed Peppershrike, Ochraceous and Grey-breasted Wood Wrens, Ruddy-capped Nightingale-Thrush, Spangle-cheeked Tanager, Yellow-bellied Siskin and Golden-browed Chlorophonia. Some time spent around the lodge was rewarding, with Acorn Woodpecker, Flame-coloured Tanager, Silver-throated Tanager and many hummingbirds in the shape of Green Violet-ear, Magnificent, Scintillant, Volcano and White-throated Mountain-Gem coming to the feeding station. Later in the afternoon news began to filter through of a pair of Quetzals by the river near the lodge. We headed down to check it out, and although the light had almost gone, we found the two Quetzals showing at close range (though always obscured by branches), as well as American Dipper and Louisiana Waterthrush. Another good end to a day!|
|Day 8 – Savegre
We tried to get yesterday evening’s Quetzals in better light this morning, but sadly they were nowhere to be found. After breakfast we headed up out of the Savegre Valley to investigate the paramo habitat on the mountain tops. This area is home to a few specialist species. Volcano Juncos showed well, Timberline Wren did not. Nearby in a better vegetated area, we caught up with a smashing Flame-throated Warbler.
Back in the Savegre Valley, we had another crack at the Resplendent Quetzals near the river on the basis that they might only appear there in the afternoon, and this bizarre theory proved correct as both birds put on a fantastic show at close range, a truly memorable experience. The decision to spend an extra night at Savegre had paid off big time! Some showy Collared Restarts, American Dipper and Black-faced Solitaire were also seen. The Imperial beer supped that evening was particularly sweet with the knowledge that quality Quetzal shots were in the bag.