This is the third in a series of posts documenting my Costa Rica birding trip from March14-28, 2015. To read the previous post, click here: Costa Rica Trip Report (Part II) – The Pacific Lowlands
To the delight of corporations and capitalism the world over – and myself for that matter – I’m still alive and kicking! It’s been a busy couple of months with birding, yard work, family commitments, and lots of reading, but I’ve finally found some time to do a bit of writing. I’m hoping to be a bit more consistent with my posts, but fair warning – shorebirds are already migrating back south and fall migration is going to pickup. Birding first, blogging second! Enough of that, let’s get on with it…..
As I’m combing through my photos, I’ve realized some days I have a ton of excellent photos and other days, not so much. There are two major reasons for this. First, since we bird along the way on travel days we hit a number of locations, each with different/specific birds. Second, days with ample sunlight (meaning we didn’t spend the whole day in a forest where my camera struggles with the relatively low light conditions) provide for great photo opportunities. Well, this day, being both a travel day and a day where we spent the majority of our time outside the forest, I had a lot to choose from – my initial selection numbered 52! So buckle in for a photo intensive post.
Tuesday, March 17 – Day 3 meant change. After a pre-breakfast birding excursion, we would be leaving the Pacific lowlands for good and gaining nearly 5,000 feet in elevation as we climbed Costa Rica’s continental divide to Monteverde.
As the sun rose over Costa Rica, our guide Richard had us positioned on what I call “The Ledge,” which afforded us an incredible view of the valley below and a host of new species.
One of those Ledge species was the Groove-billed Ani pictured below; a species that will forever remind me of my mate Stuart. Knowing I’m a huge jazz fan, Stuart came up with the idea of naming a jazz group “The Groove-billed Ani’s”. Not content with resting on that single idea, Stuart built on it to create an entire night of jazz. For those who don’t know, there is also a Smooth-billed Ani and Stuart’s idea is to have a hard grooving jazz group called “The Groove-billed Ani’s” start the night. As the night begins to wind down, the after midnight group – “The Smooth-billed Ani’s” – would take over and provide some down-tempo, chill jazz. Brilliant!
Photos of some of the other birds we spotted at The Ledge:
On our drive down from The Ledge, this Scarlet Macaw put on quite a show for us outside a private residence. Could you imagine leaving your house and having wild macaws outside?
After breakfast back at Hotel Villa Lapas, we packed our gear, boarded the bus, and headed for Monteverde. Along the way, we would make three key stops and pickup some more new species. First stop, the Pacific coast which netted us some gulls, terns, and shorebirds.
After a brief stop along the Pacific Ocean, we took a side rode to a tract of Pacific mangroves. One of our targets was the Panama Flycatcher – it would be our one shot to find this species since it’s mainly found along the Pacific coast and we were venturing inland with no return to the coast. Bus stops, we file out, stop a short way in the brush, Richard plays the call, the Panama Flycatcher shows up. Not only shows up within minutes of us stopping, but provides excellent views.
After leaving the coast, we headed inland through some relatively poorer and more rural farmlands on our way to Monteverde. A stop at the salt ponds along the way proved very productive and it was a pleasure scoping shorebirds and terns from a comparably short distance.
From the salt ponds we made our way over a series of mountain passes; up we climbed on narrow, mainly dirt and gravel roads, before leveling out briefly or descending and then up we’d go again. Speeds were slow, the roads were bumpy, but no one minded…..especially when we rounded a corner and came across a group of Mantled Howler Monkeys. Our bus driver Carlos pulled over to the side and we spent a few minutes watching the group from the bus. Mantled Howler Monkeys eat large quantities of leaves, but since the leaves are hard to digest and provide less energy than most foods, they spend the majority of the day resting and sleeping. As someone with a habitually lazy streak, this seems like the ideal way to spend your time on the planet.
You’ll notice in the photos below, the baby is in a different spot for each picture. While we tried to watch the entire group, this baby seemed to be putting on a show just for us; swinging from branches, climbing all over another monkey, and then looking to take a snooze on one of their backs. Everyone on the bus was wide-eyed with perma-grin smiles.
Arriving in Monteverde we had a few target species. One of those was the Buff-fronted Quail-Dove; an uncommon species endemic to Costa Rica and western Panama. After the drive, many of us filed off the bus and headed straight for the restrooms where wandering just feet from the men’s door was the Buff-fronted Quail-Dove. Ohhhh if only all target species were that easy, but then again, what fun would that be?
We climbed the trails of Monteverde and Richard positioned us at beautiful overlook of a waterfall. This was a spot Richard had counted on in the past for a Snowcap to come and bathe in a small pool near the waterfall.
Unfortunately, the Snowcap did not get the memo and missed our date, but without the search for the Snowcap we may never have came across what would turn out to be my #3 moment on the trip (refresher from the prologue – we were notified on day 1 that at the end of the trip we would need to provide a “Top 5.” The top 5 could be birds, moments, or events – there were no hard and fast rules, only that we would need to share our top 5 experiences.)
Without further ado, my #3 trip moment was almost getting decapitated by a Barred-Forest Falcon! As we were heading back down the mountain, I was second inline directly behind Richard when out of nowhere a blur of an object swooped down and headed straight for me. I’m sure I didn’t need to, but instinct took hold and I ducked. When I looked up at Richard I was wide-eyed with a “what the hell was that?” look on my face. We backtracked down the path and Tom was able to get a scope on the culprit and each of us got great looks at the Barred-Forest Falcon.
We got back to the parking lot with the sun getting ready to set and had our first hummingbird feeder action. It was a dizzying experience as hummingbird species came zipping by at staggering speeds while Richard called out the various species. Many of these were obliviously use to people and would sit perched while visitors walked up mere feet from them and snapped photos with their phones. It was an incredible way to close out a magnificent day!
As daylight began to disappear, we made our way to the Cala Lodge where beers and dinner awaited us.
Since I’m sharing only a small portion of my photos, and since those only represent a small fraction of what we saw, below is a list of other notable species from day 3:
Click the link to jump to the next post in this series: Costa Rica Trip Report (Part IV) – The Army Invades