Costa Rica Trip Report (Part III) – The Ledge, The Cloud Forest, and One of the Top Five

Lineated Woodpecker -sunrise near Carara National Park (the Pacific Lowlands) Costa Rica 3-17-2015
Lineated Woodpecker -sunrise near Carara National Park (the Pacific Lowlands) Costa Rica 3-17-2015

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.

Day 3 - from Hotel Villa Lapas to Monteverde as indicated in red, although I really have no idea what path we took to get to Monteverde.
Day 3 – from Hotel Villa Lapas to Monteverde as indicated in red, although I really have no idea what path we took to get to Monteverde. However I do know we climbed a lot of seamlessly endless mountain switchbacks.

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.

Early morning birding on "The Ledge"
Early morning birding on “The Ledge”

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!

Groove-billed Ani at The Ledge 3-17-2015.
Groove-billed Ani at The Ledge 3-17-2015.

Photos of some of the other birds we spotted at The Ledge:

at The Ledge 3-17-2015.
Streak-headed Woodcreeper at The Ledge 3-17-2015. If you’re one who considers all sparrows “little brown jobs,” then you’ll want to avoid Woodcreepers.
Red-legged Honeycreeper at The Ledge 3-17-2015.
Red-legged Honeycreeper at The Ledge 3-17-2015.

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?

Scarlet Macaw near The Ledge 3-17-2015.
Scarlet Macaw near The Ledge 3-17-2015.

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.

IMG_5264
The Pacific Ocean – 3-17-2015.
Brown Pelicans & shorebirds - 3-17-2015 Costa Rica
Brown Pelicans & shorebirds – 3-17-2015 Costa Rica.

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.

Yellow (Mangrove) Warbler - 3-17-2015 Costa Rica.
Yellow (Mangrove) Warbler – 3-17-2015 Costa Rica. Will this species be split from the “non-Mangrove” Yellow Warbler which has a yellow head?? If so, I’ll gain another life bird and it doesn’t get much easier than that – what Stuart calls “an armchair tick,” meaning I can sit at home and do nothing and add a new life bird.

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.

Whimbrel
Whimbrel
Black-necked Stilt, Wilson's Polver, Whimbrel - salt ponds in Costa Rica 3-17-2015
Black-necked Stilts, Wilson’s Polvers, & Whimbrels – salt ponds in Costa Rica 3-17-2015
Streak-backed Oriole 3-17-2015
Streak-backed Oriole 3-17-2015

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.

Barred-Forest Falcon - Monteverde 3-17-2015
Barred-Forest Falcon – Monteverde 3-17-2015. Sorry for the blurry photo, but the lighting was poor and the falcon was a ways off.

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!

Purple-throated Mountain-gem - Monteverde 3-17-2015
Purple-throated Mountain-gem – Monteverde 3-17-2015

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:

Black Guan

Black-breasted Wood-Quail

Green Violetear

Coppery-headed Emerald

Yellow-headed Caracra

Yellow-naped Parrot

Spotted Barbtail

Rose-throated Becard

Black-faced Solitaire

Collard Redstart

Stripe-headed Sparrow

Click the link to jump to the next post in this series: Costa Rica Trip Report (Part IV) – The Army Invades

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11 thoughts on “Costa Rica Trip Report (Part III) – The Ledge, The Cloud Forest, and One of the Top Five”

    1. Thanks Carol!!! Appreciate the comments. It’s going to be hard to top this trip as we had a great group of birders – fun friends both in the field and out of it. Although we’ll give it our best try in Oaxaca 😉

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  1. Woo hoo!! Thanks for the virtual vacay. When I went to Costa Rica back in ’93, I was NOT into birds or wildlife. I so want to go back. I cannot believe the beautiful species in this post; too many thoughts for one little comment box. I believe I love the Panama Flycatcher the best. He has such a sweet face! Great photographs all. Cheers from Texas. 😀

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    1. Thanks Shannon!!! I highly recommend a return trip to Costa Rica at some point. The birding is phenomenal, the people are kind and friendly, and it’s truly a remarkable country. I can’t wait to get back – hoping to do the Osa Peninsula next.

      Glad you enjoyed the photos! There are a ton of incredible species that I didn’t get decent photos of, but had a chance to watch. Thanks for checking out the post – hope all is well in Texas. Fall migration is starting to heat up so I’m sure you’ll start seeing the migrants working back to their winter grounds.

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      1. When we decide to go ‘out-of country,’ the first places will be to the south in Central America I’m sure. Costa Rica is a butterfly haven — birding too. It will be on top of the list!

        Yes, we are excited to see some migrant warblers already in the yard, not to mention the hummingbirds (my fav). I am watching their antics for an hour every morning…great way to start my day. 😀

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    1. I like that idea…..and of course, I’d have to be put up in Costa Rica in order to work. Yesterday I spent some time going through pics for my next post and was flooded with memories – can’t wait to revisit!!

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  2. I enjoyed this post perhaps even more the second time. I laughed at the ‘habitually lazy’ comment. I feel like I should come back as anything that will allow me to sit and watch birds all day. Is there such a species? I also missed the Grooved Ani jazz band part; Stuart sounds like a cool dude and my kind of people.

    Still watching the hummers. Don’t want to miss a minute because I know any day now, they’ll be gone. And I’ll be sad. Going now to read the next installment. Thanks again, Matthew (is that right?) for breaking up your trip into readable chunks.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s awesome – so happy to get feedback!!! Yeah, Stuart is a lot of fun – a diehard birder, but a great person as well. I’m looking forward to a future birding trip with him (stay tuned for more info coming on that – hopefully a post this winter about my upcoming plans).

      Yep, Matthew is correct 🙂 Definitely enjoy the hummers while they stick around!!! With the bulk of warblers now south of us, I’m going to be out looking for geese (Ross’ & Snow) and sparrows over the coming weeks.

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    1. Glad to have you along for the ride…and for your comments/thoughts. I hope to get back at posting this week. I have my presentation tonight and then I’m going to start work on a local blog post and the next part in the series on Costa Rica.

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