21 - 27 July 1997
by Christine E. Rideout
ABA/AFO JOINT MEETING
My trip began with many irritations - all related to Continental Airlines. When I called to confirm my flight I was told, emphatically, to be at Ontario Airport no later than two hours before my scheduled flight time of 7:10 a.m. When we arrived at 5:00 a.m. we found a dark and deserted Continental desk. They don't start work until 6:00 a.m.! So, we were up at 4:00 a.m. for no apparent reason.
When I arrived in Houston I was looking at a 5 hour layover before my flight to San Jose. Five hours is an eternity when you are alone in an airport. I took the underground train to the Marriot for lunch, wandered aimlessly through gift shops, and read A GUIDE TO THE BIRDS OF COSTA RICA by Stiles and Skutch until I felt so thoroughly confused that I switched to SIERRA Magazine.
Well, finally it was time to board. The plane was full. We were all finally in our seats and buckled up when the pilot announced a 2 hour delay due to a broken pilot's chair. We all got back off of the plane and were treated to a free 5- minute phone card, a discount coupon on our next flight, and $10 credit at the food court.
We got to San Jose, eventually, and were greeted by the Costa Rica Temptations tour company representatives who expedited our luggage through customs and took us to our hotel. There were about 20 ABAers on that flight.
When I finally got to my room it was midnight.
The next morning I was up at 5:30. My roommate, Daphne Gemmill, had booked a private guide for the day to take us to the highlands, since neither of us were scheduled for that area on our regular field trips. He picked us up at the Hotel Herradura at 6 a.m. The three of us squeezed in to the cab of his Toyota pickup and were off. We were headed for the Cordillera de Talamanca, about 100km (just over 60 miles) south of San Jose. We birded El Cerro de la Muerte and San Gerrardo de Dota. El Cerro de la Muerte (The Mountain of Death) could very well have been named for the treacherous road that leads to the summit (3491m or almost 11,500 ft) but it wasn't. It was named for the many shoeless campesinos who froze to death or caught pneumonia while carrying sacks of blackberries, rice or corn for trade in San Jose.
We birded for several hours in the cold (yes it really was cold) fog and light-to-moderate rain showers. The birding was slow, but isn't it always in high elevations, even without rain? The first bird to greet us was the Volcano Hummingbird. It is a Selasphorus hummer, similar in appearance to our Allen's only with a green back and a pale purplish gorget. Interestingly, the Volcano Hummingbirds have different colored gorgets on the different volcanoes. At the summit of Poas, their gorgets are rose-red and on Irazu they are dull purple.
They mostly just 93chipped 94 but occasionally a male would give this high-pitched whistle that sounded to me like a Costa's mating song that got stuck on th e way up and never descended. We saw several of these little hummers, but even more abundant were the Fiery-Throated Hummingbirds.
The Fiery-throateds were large. The few that I saw in good light showed a bright orange throat and a blue breast spot against a bright green belly. The head and tail are both blue and the back is green. Absolutely beautiful! They were very active and noisy, chasing each other in and out of the foliage and buzzing our heads frequently.
Along the path we were following we saw many tapir tracks. Our guide said they are seldom seen, because they are hunted here. The tracks were surprisingly large to me; about a 5-6 94 wide three-hoof impression. The guide said they can weigh up to 600 pounds!
The most common birds at this elevation (about 9000') were Black-billed Nightengale-thrush, Black-and-Yellow Silky-Flycatcher, Slaty Flowerpiercer and the Fiery-throated Hummingbird. We also saw Peg-billed Finches, Ochraceous Pewee, Collared Redstart, Flame-throated Warbler, Band-tailed Pigeon, Ruddy Pigeon, Black-cheeked Warbler, Ruddy Treerunner, Yellow-thighed Finch, Sooty-capped Bush-Tanager and Long-tailed Silky-flycatcher.
We headed into a beautiful highland valley on a rough but scenic road toward San Gerardo de Dota. The San Gerardo valley had many orchards of apples and peaches and blackberries. We ate at a small mom & pop restaurant along the Rio Savegre River. The American Dipper in the river was identical to the dippers in SoCal except for color: it was very pale gray. Acorn Woodpeckers rattled in the trees and the ornamental bottle-brush trees at the bottom of the driveway attracted many hummers. We had a lovely meal of Casado (rice, black beans, salad, yucca, fried plantain & beef, chicken or fish) and Pepsi with rice pudding for dessert for under $4 each. While we dined, we watched hummers at the feeders through the large picture windows. They were White-throated Mountain Gems(of which the female is prettier than the male for a change!), Magnificent Hummingbirds, and Scintillant Hummingbirds. The 93backyard 94 of the restaurant was an apple orchard and a small trout pond full of HUGE trout. In the orchard were Rufous-naped Sparrows and Clay-colored Robins.
Throughout our scenic drive through this valley we made several roadside stops. We added to our list Blue-and-White Swallow, Northern Rough-Winged Swallow, Ochraceous Wren, Gray-breasted Wood-wren, Yellow-winged Vireo, Sooty Robin, Yellow-bellied Siskin, Red-tailed Hawk, Black Vulture, Hairy Woodpecker, Tropical Kingbird, Black-capped Flycatcher, Tufted Flycatcher and Great-tailed Grackle. One bird that was sorely missed from our trip list was the Resplendant Quetzal - everyone's target bird. The only one we saw was a stuffed and mounted bird in the restaurant. Bummer.
We got stuck in rush hour traffic in San Jose on the way back. It was a lot like SoCal rush hour traffic except for the fumes! Most of the vehicles run on deisel and there are no smog controls. I felt sick sitting in traffic breathing that disgusting air. We got back too late to clean up for dinner, so we just went directly to the Convention Center. Our meal was the same comida tipica as lunch, only it didn't taste as good. All of the dinners at the convention center were only fair to moderately yucky and they never ever served anything chocolate. By the end of the week my hormones were so out of alignment from lack of chocolate that I thought I would never recover. Luckily, I found a candy bar in the hotel gift shop midweek that averted complete hormonal breakdown.
The after dinner program was a slide presentation entitled INTRODUCTION TO COSTA RICAN BIRDS by Marco T. Saborio. This guy had some great photos! I even bought some from him to take home. He sells complete slide sets as well as photo prints. Some of my favorites were the albino Spectacled Owl chick, the Quetzal feeding it's young, and the Great Potoo on a fencepost.
Tuesday was the first ABA field trip day. As usual, the conference was well organized. All we had to do for ourselves was set the alarm clock. In all, there were seven field trips and three field trip days, so EVERYONE needs to return to Costa Rica to see the places they didn't get to this time. My trip this day was to Bosque de Paz (Forest of Peace). It is a private 1000-acre farm and reserve in a forested valley about 5000'-6000' ft. in elevation. It is below the Poas Volcano on the Caribbean Slope and considered to be a middle-elevation site. What a beautiful place!
Ah, but I am ahead of myself. We boarded the bus at 4:30 a.m. Our first stop was a little town called Grecia. At the town center there is a church built entirely of metal and a central park. We were to eat our boxed breakfast here and do some dawn birdwatching. Forget the breakfast! (The breakfasts were REALLY yucky all week). Luckily the birding was so good we forgot about eating. (Christine's tip for the day - when you visit Costa Rica bring some dried fruit, beef jerky, granola bars, etc. You WILL eat it, as I did, or starve, or at least suffer from yucky food syndrome.)
In the park we got great views of perched Crimson-fronted Parakeets, Orange-chinned Parakeets, Blue-gray Tanagers, and Grayish Saltators. Great- tailed Grackles, Rufous-naped Sparrows and Red-billed Pigeons were common, as they are throughout the Meseta Central (Central Valley). We also saw Great Kiskadees, Sulphur-bellied Flycatchers, Inca Doves, and Bronzed Cowbirds. Enroute to Bosque de Paz we made several roadside stops to bird. The guides made the driver stop in the middle of the road somewhere so we could all get a good look at the perched Short-tailed Hawk. It was an especially good find, as it was a dark phase bird. At one stop we got good looks at a Gray-crowned Yellowthroat. In comparison to our Common Yellowthroat, it seemed slightly bigger, had a gray head, white eye ring, and its mask ended just behind the eye, not extending through the auricular area like the Common. We also saw a Prong-billed Barbet, Buff-throated Saltator, Palm Tanager, Social Flycatchers, and a lovely Variegated Squirrel. This little guy had bright rufous underparts, a bushy tail and a very unrodentlike face. A very productive stop along the way was at a place called Toro Amarillo (Yellow Bull) on the Caribbean Slope of Volcan Poas. Here, overlooking a small farm with Brahma cattle on the hill behind us we were treated to some beautiful birds. The Masked Tityra is a lovely white bird with a red face and black band on the tail. Scarlet-thighed Dacnis are lovely electric blue little birds with black wings, red legs and a sharp-pointed black bill. The females are dull green with brownish legs. We saw Scarlet-rumped Tanagers, Crimson-collared Tanagers, Yellow-faced Grassquits, Variable Seedeaters, Mountain Elaenia, Brown Jays and even an Eastern Meadowlark. White-crowned Parrots squawked as they flew overhead.
Further on, a roadside pond had a single Northern Jacana at its edge. We stopped one more time for a Montezuma Oropendula colony. From a single large tree in a grassy field hung at least 20 drooping oblong nests. Oropendulas came and went, and I presume the young had already fledged. Many Ticos (that's what Costa Ricans call themselves) collect the old nests and hang them at their doorways as decoration. Oropendulas are (incredulously to me) Icterids. They are very large, about 20 94 long, with chestnut bodies, yellow tails, orange-tipped bills, and blue and pink facial skin. They make the weirdest sounds, too. The males song is described by Stiles and Skutch as a 93far-carrying liquid gurgle 85with screeching, metallic overtones at close range, often preceded by a loud rustling or crashing sound 85 94 You just have to hear it, I guess. Finally, we arrive as Bosque de Paz. The owners rush out to meet us with great big smiles and welcoming words. The main building with the restaurant is located adjacent to a stream. A little wooden footbridge leads across the stream to a parklike setting of grass and flowery shrubs next to pastureland. Paths lead from the building past a row of hummingbird feeders into the rainforest. The paths lined with circles of wood cut from trees like slices of Pillsbury cookie dough laid about 12-18 94 apart as stepping stones. Squares of chicken wire are stapled to the wood to prevent slipping in the always-wet forest, but it works better in theory than in practice. We were all slipping and sliding across the pathways.
It was raining lightly when we arrived. Most of us made a pit stop inside then lined up under the eaves of the building to peer at the hummingbird feeders.
Here we saw my favorite hummer, the Violet Sabrewing. This is a huge hummingbird, about 6 94 long the male with a deep violet head, breast, belly and upper back, dark decurved bill, green lower back, and a large dark tail with white corners. The other hummers at the feeders included White-bellied Mountain Gem, Scintillant Hummingbird, and Magnificent Hummingbirds.
After a while, we headed into the forest. This was a lesson in pure frustration for me! The guides were pointing out birds that I couldn't fin d in the thick foliage. I couldn't even remember most of the bird names as they wer e all new to me. I came to the conclusion later on that in the tropics, the general rule for bird naming is this: The smaller the bird, the longer the name and the more hyphens in it.
It rained lightly during our trek, but the thick forest canopy prevented any of us from getting drenched. I spent most of the time watching where I placed my feet, worrying about what poisonous creatures might be lurking along the trail or in the vines, and feeling like crying. I was overwhelmed. I felt like the world's worst birder. We passed a trail of army ants, a few of which crawled up the guide's pant legs and bit him. I tucked my pants into my socks.
I did manage to see a few of the birds that were in the canopy: Black- faced Solitaire, Common Bush-Tanager, Spotted Woodcreeper, Liinneated Foliage-Gleaner, Three-Striped Warbler and Common Tody-Flycatcher. As we neared the end of our trail we found ourselves on a wooden bridge. High above us in the canopy were Mantled Howler Monkeys! A large troop, maybe 15-20 in all, complete with babies! I stood there and cried. I wished Katie were there at that moment, army ants or not, to see wild monkeys in the trees. No bars, no cages, no moats. I was overcome with emotion. Those were the best birds of the day! One of our guides, Gary Diller, is a primate fan himself, and gave me a big hug and told me I was as sentimental as he. He made me feel much better. We exited the forest into a grassy field and followed the stream back down to the little footbridge and across to lunch. Streamside, we saw a Black Phoebe (much darker underneath than the ones back home), Torrent Tyrannulet, House Wren, and Plain Wren. We got a Great Black Hawk soaring overhead and a Bat Falcon perched high up on the ridge across from us. Now I felt like a birder again - especially since I'm the one that found the Gre at Black Hawk!!
Our lunch was very similar in content to the previous day's fare (it's about all they serve I was to find out) but very tasty and filling. The people there were very nice, and shook each one of our hands as we got back on the bus. If you go to Costa Rica, be sure to visit Bosque de Paz!!
We made very short stop at the Rio Toro Waterfall overlook. It was spectacular! A large waterfall emptying into a deep gorge lined with dense lush green vegetation. Well worth the stop. Our next stop was at La Virgen del Socorro along the Caribbean slope of Barva Volcano. We stayed on the gravel road which leads to the Sarapiqui River, and walked only about BD mile or so. David Wolf, a VENT trip leader, was in our group and was an incredible asset in identifying the many birds at this area. They came too many, too fast and all were stunningly beautiful. The ones I was able to get my glasses on were: Emerald Tanager, Buff-throated Saltator, Blue-and-Gold Tanager, Silver-throated Tanager, Bananaquit, Yellow-green Vireo, Tropical Parula, Yellow-bellied Elaenia, Paltry Tyrannulet, Russet Antshrike, Tawny- capped Euphonia, and Little Hermit. Our final stop along the way back to the hotel was the hummingbird house. This family has a little home with a balcony overlooking a deep valley with a beautiful waterfall at the opposite side. They provide hummingbird feeders just outside the balcony and restrooms and coffee for travelers. A small donation of 100 Colones (about 36 cents) is requested. This place rivals the famous Patton's in southeast Arizona! I got nine species, all within a few feet from my dropping jaw. They were: Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Coppery-headed Emerald (a Costa Rican endemic), Green Thorntail, Green Hermit, Brown Violetear, Green Violetear, Violet Sabrewing, Purple-crowned Fairy, and Green-crowned Brilliant.
We returned to the hotel/conference center for another culinary disappointment and a program of Costa Rican music and dancing presented by the Folkloric Company and the Minister of Tourism. I enjoyed the entertainment, but yawned through it because I was exhausted. This day in the field was absolutely overwhelming with 99 species, most of them lifers.
DAYS THREE AND FOUR
Wednesday and Thursday were reserved for Programs, Symposiums and Scientific Papers Presentations. While still at home I had looked forward to attending some of these activities, however, once I had arrived I changed my mind. I figured that since this trip was costing nearly Two Grand I should see Costa Rica and not spend two days sitting inside a hotel. So these were to be my sightseeing days. As it turned out, many people skipped out on the programs, but the ones I spoke to that attended some were impressed.
I signed up for a tour of a local coffee company and butterfly farm through Costa Rica Temptations. I ended up hanging with Karen Hollinga who was very nice company.
The Britt Coffee tour was very fun. After a short walk outside with demonstrations on planting, harvesting and general coffee bean anatomy we went into the plant and saw the roasters and grinders and tasting room. We then went into a theater where the three tour guides put on a very entertaining, funny and even educational play about the history and culture of coffee. I bought more coffee than could fit into my suitcase (shopping is my other hobby) and some excellent coffee liquor as well. I gave most of the bags of coffee away at home as souvenirs for my friends.
The next stop was to The Butterfly Farm in Guacima. After a short Discovery-channel type video on butterflies we were escorted into a big greenhouse-type enclosure where the butterflies live. The guide named the varied flying jewels for us and gave us some interesting information on each species and explained how each species lays its eggs on a different plant.
We then went into a small room called the nursery. Here there are cabinet-like enclosures with screen doors for the larvae (caterpillars). In each is a different type of larvae and a plant for it to eat. It is amazing how big some of them get in such a short time. It reminded me of one of Katie's storybooks , THE VERY HUNGRY CATERPILLAR, by Eric Carle. We were permitted and even encouraged to pet each one.
Next we were shown the chrysalises, which were simply pinned up inside a screen box hanging from the wall. The guide demonstrated how they are packed in layers of cotton in boxes and shipped all over the world. I asked if they sent any to the San Diego Zoological Society (they have a big butterfly aviary that Katie and I love to visit) and she said they are on of their biggest customers. Maybe tomorrow when we call in on the Zoo I will see some butterflies that I saw a couple of weeks ago as chrysalises!! An interesting fact: the adult butterflies only live 3-4 weeks.
We were then taken to lunch. More of the same, I'm afraid, but good. Anyone who wanted could have a sample of some sort of homemade liquor made from fermented fruits (like small figs). I don't know what the fruit or the moonshine is called, but it tasted absolutely awful! Something like Everclear with grenadine.
After lunch our tour was over and we were returned to the hotel. I had time to kill, so I walked about BD a mile to a souvenir shop. I had seen a beautiful hammock hanging in the window every time we drove past and was curious about the price. It was 15,300 colones so I did what any compulsive buyer would do - I bought it. I also bought a hat pin, a miniature wooden oxcart with dried coffee beans glued on it pulled by miniature wooden oxen for Katie, two lovely painted pictures of birds and some postcards. All together I spent 18,645 colones - about $80.
After a gruesome dinner F. Gary Stiles spoke on Priorities in Research and Conservation in Neotropical Ornithology. While this man is a great ornithologist, extremely knowledgeable in tropical birds, ecosystems and even politics, he was not a captivating speaker. I don't even remember what he said.
I had originally booked a tour to Arenal Volcano and Tabacon Thermal Springs for Thursday, but canceled when I found out it returned to the hotel at 11:00 p.m. My field trip Friday morning was to begin at 3:45 a.m. and I thought I should get some sleep. Instead, I had arranged to take the shuttle van into San Jose to see the sights with another person ( I didn't think it was wise to go alone). Wednesday night my partner remembered a meeting he had to be at, so was on my own. I opted to bird the Cariari Golf Course next to the hotel, as good birds were being reported there.
There were only a handful of golfers , but dozens of birders on the fairways. I got 4 lifers in the hour or so that I was over there: Squirrel Cuckoo, Blue-crowned Motmot, Ringed Kingfisher, and Melodious Blackbird. I also saw Rufous-naped Sparrows, Great-tailed Grackles, Clay-colored Robins, Blue-gray Tanagers, Tropical Kingbirds, Great Kiskadees, Hoffman's Woodpeckers, House Wrens, Blue-and-white Swallows, Northern rough-winged Swallows, Red-billed Pigeons and Rock Doves.
On the way back to the hotel I contemplated finding someone to go into San Jose with, attending a symposium, or just hanging out at the pool. I met a fun couple about halfway back, Jack and Sue Harrell from Memphis, TN. The told me they were off to find a road that led to a river somewhere behind the golf course and asked me if I wanted to go along, which I did.
We saw more of the same birds and walked forever. We ended up in a very high-class residential area. The homes were lovely and large, but somehow the razor wire and iron bars just didn't fit the decor. I think every home (and most businesses) in Costa Rica has bars on the windows, regardless of its worth, size or neighborhood. Is it a design tradition or is the theft problem that big there?
Anyway, after a few wrong turns, we finally found our way back. We were thirsty, hot and ready for lunch. None of us had planned to be walking around that long and were very unprepared - no sunscreen, hats or water. I was fried. We stopped at a small hotel that had a patio restaurant and had the place to ourselves. We had, of all things, pizza. It wasn't exactly like the pizza I'm used to, but it was a wonderful alternative to rice, beans and fried bananas. We kept the waiter hopping with Coke refills and we even got a lifer while we dined - Plain-breasted Ground-dove.
After lunch we went for a swim at our hotel before braving another cuisine nightmare at the conference center. Before dinner, the authors and artist for the field guide were available for book signing. Stiles, Skutch and Gardner all signed my now-tattered book and Dr. Skutch also signed my copy of A NATURALIST IN COSTA RICA.
The after-dinner program Thursday was the very best one. The American Field Ornithologists presented the first-ever Alexander Skutch Excellence in Neotropical Ornithology Award in celebration of their 75th anniversary and their first meeting in Central America. We saw a film 93A Naturalist in the Rain Forest 94 (available from Bullfrog Films 800-543-3764 with public presentation rights) which is about Dr. Skutch who has lived in Costa Rica over 50 years. The US Ambassador to Costa Rica, who is a birder (!) gave a short speech, then Dr. Skutch spoke and presented the award to F. Gary Stiles. The award was a lovely framed silver medal and also included a monetary award (they didn't announce how much $). Dr. Skutch, who is in his 90s, looked very feeble and his signature was a bit shaky-looking, but when he spoke his voice was surprisingly strong and his words were wonderful (he did not read from a prepared speech) and delivered well. Cameras were flashing and standing ovations were given. It was great.
My Friday trip was to La Selva Biological Center. This place is host to all kinds of students and researchers, and limits visitors to 75 per day with advance reservations. Those of us opting for this trip also paid and extra $25. Our leaders for the day were Victor Emanuel and Andrew Whittaker.
The mountain pass south of Volcan Barva was closed due to landslides, so we had to detour through Heredia, Sarapiqui and around Volcan Poas. We stopped at the hummer house again for a potty break where we saw Violet Sabrewing, Brown Violetear, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Green Violetear, Coppery-headed Emerald, Common Bush-tanager, Scarlet-thighed Dacnis, Crimson-fronted Parakeet, Green-crowned Brilliant and Rufous-collared Sparrow. Enroute to La Selva from there we chalked up a pretty good list which included: Black-chested Hawk, Sulfur-winged Parakeet, Brown Jay, White-tipped Dove, Blue Ground-dove, Tropical Kingbird, and Turkey and Black Vultures. We were very late in arriving at La Selva - we left the hotel at 3:45 a.m. and arrived there around 7:45 a.m. We walked the long gravel driveway to the visitors center/cafeteria building. The birding was great, but it felt like we were in a sauna. The vegetation was mostly low, having been cut here, and there was plenty of tall grass. We saw Red-legged and Shining Honeycreepers, Pale- vented and Short-billed Pigeons, Black-cheeked Woodpeckers, Semi-Plumbeus Hawk, Keel-billed Toucan, White-crowned Parrot, Olive-throated and Orange- chinned Parakeets, Gray-rumped Swift, White-lined and Scarlet-rumped Tanagers, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Linneated Woodpecker, Gray-capped and Social Flycatchers, Blue-black Grassquit, Variable Seedeater, Black-crowned Tityra, Violaceous Trogon, Red-footed Plumeleteer. Long-tailed Tyrant, and Groove-billed Ani.
Once we got to the buildings and parking area we picked up a few more birds in the small trees there. There were many Green Honeycreepers and Blue Dacnis, a Cinnamon Becard, Common Tody-flycatcher, Tropical Pewee, Golden- hooded Tanager and Scarlet-rumped Tanager.
After a pit-stop we entered the long suspension bridge which spanned the river. Large green iguanas sunned themselves on the tree limbs only 10 feet from our faces. We birded from the bridge, which was akin to pelagic birding in the sense that we swayed and rocked constantly and we were all wet (from sweat, not salt water). A large caiman snoozed on the muddy shore below us.
Through my binoculars I could see his bright yellow eye staring back at me. From the bridge we saw Scarlet-rumped Cacique, Bronzy Hermit, Band-backed Wren, Slaty-tailed Trogon, and Barred Woodcreeper.
At the other side of the bridge were the main buildings. Wide cement sidewalks passed in front of them. There were residents riding bicycles in and out of the forest and across the bridge (tricky!) and all were covered in mud. I spotted a very large yellow and black patterned spider in a web on the Library/Herbarium building. One of the guides called it a Golden Orb Spider and pointed out a teeny-weeny plain brown spider alongside of it. This was the male, who would be the big beautiful female's dinner as soon as she was finished having her way with him. So maybe all spiders aren't so bad after all 85 A family of Coatimundi foraged about 50 feet away in the center of the complex while we marveled at the birds. There were Chestnut-mandibled Toucans, an Olive-backed Euphonia, Green Brilliant Hummingbird, Black Vultures, and a heard-only Slaty-breasted Tinamou. An Agouti grazed on the lawn. He looked like a big guinea pig with long legs. His coat was lovely - like a bay horse. We entered the dense tropical forest on a very nice path. Birding in the thick jungle was slower than in the clearing. Montezuma's Oropendolas were common and very vocal. Their eerie sounds penetrated the forest, even after we were well past them. I thought I would be lucky if I saw just one toucan, but Chestnut-mandibled and Keel-billed Toucans were everywhere.
Someone in the group with very keen eyes spotted a poison dart frog. It was no more than an inch to an inch and a half long, bright red, with blue legs. Hence the name - Blue Jeans Frog. They are not as toxic as some Amazonian species, and the guide was able to pick it up in his bare hands and hold it for someone to take its picture.
Soon the sky started to drip. I was already soaked from sweat, so thought I didn't need to carry my rain gear. WRONG! The sky stopped dripping and opened up completely. It poured and poured (gee, maybe that's why it's called a rainforest) and I was beyond drenched. The rain eventually let up to a light drizzle and we just kept birding. We saw White-breasted Wood-wren, Red-lored Parrot, Blue-black Grosbeak, and a flock of singing Song Wrens. In one particularly huge tree with a very wide canopy and very little understory a troop of Squirrel Monkeys fed on fruit, as did several Keel-billed Toucans. I temporarily forgot how miserable I felt as I watched these acrobats swinging from branch to branch and hanging by their tails. We even witnessed some monkey sex! In a short time, a band of White-faced Capuchin Monkeys entered the scene. The Squirrels started screaming and I said, 93There's gonna be a rumble! 94 Sure enough, there was a monkey rumble, but it was more noise than anything else. A few botanical missiles were hurdled and then everyone decided that the eating was too good to be fighting. I had now increased my primate life list to three species!
We headed back across the bridge to the cafeteria. I was starved. Unfortunately, this was the only bad lunch day. I've never been in the Army, but this is what I imagine Mess Hall cuisine is like. We had a little bit of salad (too little), a slice of white tasteless rubber-like cheese, black refried beans, a rice concoction which contained canned peas and tuna (really gross), fried yucca (almost indistinguishable from french fries without salt), and a horrible sour berry juice to which we added massive amounts of sugar. Then it was back across the bridge.
From the bridge we saw a Broad-billed Motmot perched over the river, a Black-cowled Oriole, Chestnut-collared Woodpecker and a House Wren. At the other side it began to rain again as we were ready to enter the forest. This time we opted to stay under the bike shelter until it passed. We only added a gray- phase Hook-billed Kite who left and returned with a fresh snail to the same perch several times, Blue-gray Tanager, Band-backed Wren, Snowy Cotinga and Purple-crowned Fairy. I was absolutely miserable. Not only was I hotter than I ever was (the Salton Sea in August doesn't seem so insane anymore) but I was wet through (I think my underwires were beginning to rust) and I was chafed. Two ladies from Wisconsin sort of adopted me and seemed to feel sorry for me. I told them that the environment here might be great for birds and monkeys, but it was the worst in the world for humans. I started mentally planning a trip to Antarctica to see the penguins.
One of them, I think her name was Phyllis (hard to remember names when you are delirious from heatstroke), started back across the bridge toward the bus with me. About halfway across someone yelled out to us that they had a White-necked Puffbird (everyone wants to see puffbirds). I looked at Phyllis and said that I was dangerously close to not caring about some damn puffbird. We ambled back across the bridge, looked quickly at the bird, and headed for the bus. I asked her if she thought it would be in bad taste for me to remove my pants on the bus. She thought it would. I froze in the air conditioning all the way back to the hotel.
The first thing I did when I got off that bus was head toward the gift shop for baby powder (talco para bebes). I showered, wondering the whole time why I was standing under a shower of warm water again, and liberally applied my powder under my one and only pair of bike shorts that I had with me. I didn't care that I had worn them for 19 hours on the day I arrived. Then I headed downstairs to the lobby where I found Tom and Lori Parker just getting back from their trip to Carara. Evidently, it was like a sauna there, too. Tom had only one word to utter: milkshake. I told them I couldn't bear the thought of eatin g the yucky buffet food again and begged them to eat at a restaurant with me. Within 30 minutes they were showered and met me at the hotel coffee shop.
We ate like pigs. Our first course was milkshakes. Our second course was Buffalo chicken wings. We followed that with salads then Lori had Chicken Kiev, Tom had a guacamole burger and I had a New York steak. It was not 5 star food, but it was heavenly compared to what we had been eating all week - and the best part was that there were no fried bananas or rice and beans. We visited until 9:30 then decided we needed to go to bed because the next morning was another 4:00 a.m. day.
Even though I was physically miserable (and mentally so toward the end) it was worth it to see so many toucans, hear oropenola music, and experience a monkey rumble! In all I had 82 bird species for the day with 45 of them lifers and many others being lifers just a few days ago. I also got 2 lifer reptiles, 2 lifer primates and a lifer rodent. Not bad!
Saturday I was scheduled to visit Carara Biological Reserve and the Tarcoles River Estuary. The bus left at 4 a.m. and I slept all the way to the first stop. We got to Restaurant Los Cocodrilos on the Tarcoles River at about dawn.
The thatch-roofed restaurant had a balcony where we were supposed to eat our boxed breakfast and look at birds. Well, you know by now that most of the boxes ended up in the trash. We were able to get a cup of coffee, though. My most vivid memory of this restaurant (I was half-asleep for about the first 15 minutes) is of one of a man carrying a bovine carcass over his shoulders from the back of a truck through the dining room. It was skinned and sliced conveniently right down the middle so he could carry half on each shoulder. Desayuno de la carne, anyone?
Anyway, we got good birds here: Turquoise-browed Motmot, Hoffman's Woodpecker, Rufous-naped Wren, Crested Caracara. It didn't take long for most of us to find our way out of the restaurant and across the street to the roadbridge over the river. That's where the best view of the Scarlet Macaws flying overhead was. They migrate each morning from their roost in the mangroves to their feeding areas in the forest in groups of 2-10. They made lots of noise as they flew over. Everyone was thrilled. We even got great scope views of two of these huge red birds perched in a distant tree next to the water. From the bridge we picked up several new species: Mangrove Swallow, Gray-breasted Martin, White Ibis, Northern Jacana, Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, Little Blue Heron, Roseate Spoonbill and Collared Plover. We also saw some more familiar birds: Green and Great Blue Herons, Great Egrets, Northern Rough-Winged Swallows and Spotted Sandpipers. Crocodiles were in the water and on the shore.
Along the roadside we saw Variable Seedeaters, Blue-black Grassquits, Barred Antshrikes, Inca Doves, Ruddy Ground Doves, a Slaty-tailed Trogon, Orange-chinned Parakeets and had super looks at a Lesser Ground Cuckoo in the scope.
We got in the bus and proceeded down the road for a short distance to the entrance of Carara Biological Reserve. Immediately after passing through the gate the guide pointed out a Two-toed Sloth with a baby on her stomach. We put the scope on it. How he noticed it there is a mystery to me - it was in a scrawny little tree, only about 20 feet off the ground, and blended in so well with the surrounding foliage and lichens etc. that at first many people were looking right at it and couldn't see it. It slowly lifted its head to look back at us for just a moment, allowing some people to spot the movement. Weird animals those sloths.
Carara is located on the 93biological divide 94 between North and South America, so the avifauna is very rich. A wide dirt road provides access through this hot, humid lowland tropical rain forest. Some of the bird highlights we spotted here are: Baird's and Black-headed Trogons, Lesser Swallowtail Swift, Collared Forest Falcon, Rufous Piha, Dot-winged Antwren, Band-rumped Swift, White-winged Becard, Buff-throated and Streak-headed Woodcreepers, Red- crowned Woodpecker, Thick-billed Euphonia, Black-headed Antshrike, Orange- Billed Sparrow, Dusky Antbird, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, White-shouldered Tanager, Lesser Greenlet, and Orange-collared Mannikin. In one clearing we had wonderful looks at a King Vulture circling overhead alongside a Black Vulture and two Wood Storks. We even saw a Brown Pelican through the canopy.
The guides were all very excited when two Yellow-billed Cotingas landed in a nearby tree. Someone in our group actually shot video of them! I especially enjoyed the pair of Pale-billed Woodpeckers that were knocking bits of tree bark off a trunk along the path. As we approached them, we were getting bombed by tree bark. Before we actually saw the birds, some of us thought we were being harassed by monkeys. These birds were beautiful! They are large black woodpeckers with big red crests and faces and white bills. Another bird that I really enjoyed was the Plumbeous Kite. It was directly overhead when I spotted it and when I got my binocs on it I couldn't believe how the outer 1/3 of the wings showed bright red against its gray body. Beautiful.
We were led off the path a bit into the understory to see an immature spectacled owl. It looked like a large cotton ball with two big black circles for eyes. He plaintively called for mom and pop, but they didn't show up. Cute. Then we went on a little side trail that led to a small pond. Here is where we found three Boat-Billed Herons preening themselves in a tree. Along the water's edge we saw Green Kingfisher, and Anhinga and a single Least Grebe swam. That little grebe was very brave, as a huge crocodile also was swimming. This guy was at least 12 feet long. He swam right up to the shore to look at us! We were on a steep bank about 15 feet above him. I took his picture, but I think the flash irritated him so he sunk out of sight. It was really creepy to know that this 12-foot croc was right there in front of you and you couldn't see it. It was as if he had melted before my eyes. He surfaced again in about a minute, in the same exact spot. Scary stuff 85.
On the way back to the bus we saw Howler Monkeys. There were many, many iguanas along the trail. These were different from the ones at La Selva; they had striped tails and bellies whereas the ones at La Selva were solid grayish-greenish.
We had lunch on a big outdoor deck at Villa Lapas in Punta Leona. This was a private resort along the river with lovely looking cabins and a swimming pool. While we ate (food good, but more beans, rice and plantain) we saw Ringed and Green Kingfishers, a White Ibis and a Laughing Falcon, all perched so close that we didn't even need binoculars.
In front of the restaurant there was a Ferruginous Pygmy Owl perched in a tree. He totally ignored all the fuss over him. We went for a walk on a trail that winds along the river through the forest. Around the villa and on the trail we saw lots of good birds including: Masked Tityra, Yellow-crowned Euphonia, Yellow- bellied Elaenia, Rose-throated Becard, Scaly-breasted Hummingbird, Chestnut- backed Antbird, Palm and Blue-gray Tanagers, Scarlet Macaws overhead and the best one - a Royal Flycatcher. This little guy has an orangish tail and rump, brown wings with white spotted wing bars and an incredible fan-shaped orange with black spots crest (which is usually folded). He flashed his crest very briefly as he flushed, but hey - I'll take what I can get!
Non-bird species of interest were a Basilisk or Jesus Christ Lizard which sat on a low horizontal branch providing a great look at him, Leafcutter Ants which marched across the footpath in the forest to their huge nest mound and Acacia Ants which all ran out to defend their tree when we tapped on its thorns. There were tubelike structures running up and down several trees and I asked the guide if they were termite or ant tunnels or something. He scratched one open. And lots of little termites were inside. It was like a termite freeway.
In all, I had 101 species with more than half being lifers. After dinner the trip totals were announced. All three days and seven locations combined, the conference attendees saw 461 species collectively. I personally saw 240 with 201 of them being lifers. A band performed Caribbean music afterward, but most people said their goodbyes and left. A few hardy souls stayed behind to dance.
Sunday was the day I left Costa Rica, but I squeezed in one more lifer on the hotel grounds. It was a Cinnamon Hummingbird. I was glad I went, but glad to be reunited with my little girl and my husband later that evening. I dreamt all night about the wonderful sights I had seen. It is so hard to describe to my non- birding friends. I just tell them it was like being in a National Geographic video- only way hotter.
All Dates ~ in Costa Rica ~ 240 seen
DUCKS, SWANS, GEESE
HERONS, EGRETS AND BITTERNS
Little Blue Heron
Great Blue Heron
IBIS AND SPOONBILLS
NEW WORLD VULTURES
HAWKS, EAGLES AND KITES
FALCONS AND CARACARAS
GUANS, CHACHALACAS AND CURASSOWS
PLOVERS AND LAPWINGS
PIGEONS AND DOVES
NEW WORLD CUCKOOS
GROUND-CUCKOOS AND ALLIES
Lesser Swallow-tailed Swift
TROGONS AND QUETZALS
CROWS AND JAYS
VIREOS AND ALLIES
WAXWINGS AND SILKY-FLYCATCHERS
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Southern Rough-winged Swallow
OLD WORLD SPARROWS
SISKINS, CROSSBILLS AND ALLIES
NEW WORLD WARBLERS
BUNTINGS, SPARROWS, TANAGERS, ALLIES
BLACKBIRDS, GRACKLES, ORIOLES
////---- STATISTICS ----/////
Species seen - 240
Christine E. Rideout,