Costa Rica Trip Report (Part V) – A Trip to Heaven

Arenal Volcano, Costa Rica 3-19-2015
Arenal Volcano, Costa Rica 3-19-2015

This is the fifth post in a series documenting my Costa Rica birding trip from March14-28, 2015. To read the previous post, click here: Costa Rica Trip Report (Part IV) – The Army Invades

The morning of day 5, March 19th, was a repeat of the previous day with birding by coffee around the property of the Cala Lodge. While the diversity of species around the grounds wasn’t particularly high, it did afford us ample opportunity to get familiar with some of the regulars – and for those of us taking photos, a second chance to capture a missed bird or two from the day before. In my case, this allowed me to grab some better shots of a pair of Emerald Toucanets.

This Masked Tityra was hanging around the Cala Lodge during breakfast. Costa Rica 3-19-2015
This Masked Tityra was hanging around the Cala Lodge during breakfast. Costa Rica 3-19-2015

After breakfast we packed, loaded the bus, and bid adieu to the Cala Lodge. Our plan for the day was to bird our way north to Bijagua with a stop at the Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve. Since birding the cloud forest means heavy canopy cover and moderate lighting for good photography, the uninformed reader would assume a reasonably short, photo-light post. However, in my attempts to disappoint the uniformed reader and over deliver, I’ve managed to cram in a number of photo galleries – like the Cala Lodge grounds; less species diversity, more time with each one present. But rest assured dear reader, I’ve already started processing my photos for the next trip report and I will makeup for any short comings in this post with a sustained, photo heavy post that will stuff you like a turkey during a proper American Thanksgiving dinner.

Day 5 - from Cala Lodge in Monteverde to Celeste Mountain Lodge in Bijagua. Black line represents route already covered; red represents travel covered in this post, although I really have no idea what route we took to get there...I can however confirm that we did arrive at the Celeste Mountain Lodge.
Day 5 – from Cala Lodge in Monteverde to Celeste Mountain Lodge in Bijagua. Black line represents route already covered; red represents travel covered in this post, although I really have no idea what route we took to get there…I can however confirm that we did arrive at the Celeste Mountain Lodge.

Some photos from Santa Elena:

Buffy Tuftedcheek - Costa Rica 3-19-2015
Buffy Tuftedcheek – Costa Rica 3-19-2015
Michael was hoping to remain in Costa Rica birding the rest of his life away. Here he scopes out potential living quarters.
Michael was hoping to remain in Costa Rica birding the rest of his life away (and I was trying desperately to figure out how to join him). Here he scopes out potential living quarters.
Butterfly, but do you know which one? I know some readers are into butterflies so hopefully someone can help me ID this correctly!
Butterfly, but do you know which one? I know some readers are into butterflies so hopefully someone can help me ID this correctly!
Santa Elena cloud forest – it’s magical walking through a forest like this; few people, birds calling, and anticipation around every corner.

As you can see in the picture below, standing near the peek at nearly 6,000 feet, the sunlight starts to filter through.

At the top of the Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve you can climb a tower, though no more than 4 at a time on the top platform, which provides a stunning view of the country, including Arenal Volcano. And if you’re lucky, or have a 12 year old birding whiz with you, you can score a life bird like the King Vulture Michael pointed out to me with the wind whipping about us. The video below is a panorama of the countryside from the aforementioned platform:

On the way out of the reserve (I’m 70% sure were still at Santa Elena), we filtered through the gift shop (this part I remember for sure). While I wandered around looking at books and possible gift ideas to take home, Stuart came bounding in with a wide-eyed looking and carrying on about a Ruddy-capped Nightingale Thrush. Out the door I followed and almost immediately came across the thrush working the pavement and gravel next to the building.

Ruddy-capped Nightingale-Thrush
Ruddy-capped Nightingale-Thrush

Full disclosure – I don’t recall exactly where we saw the species below; I guess that’s what happens when you try and remember details from 6 months ago. I can however guarantee you that they were seen on this day and I was in Costa Rica…northern Costa Rica…..somewhere between Monteverde and Bijagua.

Roadside Hawk
Roadside Hawk – Costa Rica 3-19-2015

The road to heaven was paved with new species (seriously, if there is a heaven I hope to pickup a few lifers in the hedges surrounding it!). As we climbed the final road to our lodging for the next two nights, we came across a White Hawk and a colony of Montezuma Oropendolas.

Below are the nests of Montezuma Oropendolas, a colonial breeder which builds hanging nests of woven fibres and vines which can hang down more than 3 feet from the securing branch.

Witnessing a colony is quite a spectacle as this relatively large species – bigger than a crow, smaller than a Red-tailed Hawk – is quite vocal.

Montezuma Oropendola - Costa Rica 3-19-2015
Montezuma Oropendola – Costa Rica 3-19-2015
Great Kiskadee - Costa Rica 3-19-2015
Great Kiskadee – Costa Rica 3-19-2015

And later that afternoon, we arrived in heaven – a place also known as the Celeste Mountain Lodge. Celeste – based on the Latin caelestis meaning “heavenly” – is as close as I’ve ever come to heaven.  Not only is it a birders paradise, which I’ll discuss below, but the owners are focused on sustainable tourism, believing in the “3 R” rule: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. The focus is on using locally available and eco-friendly supplies. For example, 90% of the food comes from local business; hot water is provided by solar panels; alternative use of food plate presentation reduces soap and water consumption; and on and on – an entire blog post could be dedicated to the sustainable tourism practiced at Celeste. One item representative of their entire philosophy does stand out and needs telling. When they completed the lodge – 18 rooms in one building, on two floors – all the leftover building material fit into one pickup truck! Everything that could be used, was used. An example being the light sconces which were designed from leftover roofing material. If all this “eco-friendly,” “sustainable tourism,” and “low impact” talk makes you think of a sparse, rustic lodge, think again. This is a place I could easily spend my remaining days – relaxing in the comfort of an open air eating and lounge area, birding from one of the lookouts, and enjoying meals of the highest quality. Yes dear reader, yes; this is heaven.

“Walls” that rollup and provide an open air environment allowed us to bird in comfort. Feeders placed directly out in front at eyelevel:

The group birding from the confines of the Celeste Mountain Lodge. With feeders at eyelevel and an open air dining/lobby/birding area, the pace was comfortable, and the diversity of species quite amazing. Photo courtesy of Nancy at Blue Star Enterprises.

A view from the lodge – sitting at the benches shown above:

A few of the species from our first afternoon (and rest assured, the next post will have a smorgasbord of birds at and around the feeders here):

Buff-throated Saltator - Costa Rica 3-19-2015
Buff-throated Saltator – Costa Rica 3-19-2015

Ending the day with an adult beverage or two at Celeste Mountain Lodge:

Left-to-right: Yours truly, Carol, and Tom at Celeste Mountain Lodge in Costa Rica.

The open air dining/lounge/birding area. Kitchen is way in the back and on the first floor you can see the blue light from the pool below:

IMG_20150319_201236326

I’ll have more photos from the Celeste Mountain Lodge in my next post, but for now heed my advice; if you’re planning a trip to Costa Rica -whether for birding or relaxation – you’ll want to spend some time at this lodge. I wish I was there now!

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 5:

Gray-headed Chachalaca

King Vulture

Prong-billed Barbet

Brown-billed Scythebill

Lineated Foliage-gleaner

Red-faced Spinetail

Mangrove Swallow

Ochraceous Wren

Spangle-checked Tanager

Slaty Flowerpiercer

Blue Grosbeak

Bronzed Cowbird

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7 thoughts on “Costa Rica Trip Report (Part V) – A Trip to Heaven”

  1. Like WOW! “Stuff you like a turkey at Thanksgiving”…yes, I get that. I even appreciate it, even though I’m vegan. So hard to pick favorites when they’re ALL favorites, right? Your photos are all so inviting, especially the birdies.

    Do you know that we saw a Great Kiskadee in our yard a couple of months ago? We saw it for the first time ever last year, thinking it rare, and now we’re thinking he comes back. And here you are, posting one in Costa Rica! Such a beauty. And those Oropendolas!!

    When we DO make it back to Costa Rica (thanks to your posts, my husband is now geeked to take the family there one day), we will definitely check out Celeste. Looks amazing, even for kids. Looks like a one-stop-shop for adventure, birding and non-birding alike.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Super glad you are enjoying it…and that I’ve reached your husband with my enthusiasm. The Celeste Mountain Lodge is an amazing place and one I would like to get back to! Outside of the beautiful grounds, food, and accommodations, there are hiking trails a short walk away and they do things like night hikes and can arrange horseback riding and other activities.

      Really glad you are enjoying the photos! As always, thanks for the feedback!

      Like

  2. I’ve just finished reading all of your Costa Rica entries…wow!!! Awesome trip and sightings! We took our first trip to Costa Rica last March and are returning for the first 2 weeks of April this year. I can hardly wait!
    We’re planning on spending a night or two at Celeste Mountain Lodge and I was thrilled to read how much you loved it!
    Thanks for sharing your trip!
    Tracy

    Like

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