Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Post #25 - Costa Rica, Part 2! Part 3 still to come!

In the last entry, I wrote briefly – well, maybe not-so-briefly – about my general impressions of Costa Rica and my experiences as a first time visitor to the country. In this entry I will spend my words on the birds that I saw during the first 3.5 days of our trip. As this escape was planned only a week in advance, I was admittedly underprepared from an identification standpoint. This actually made for very relaxing birding. Unconcerned about finding every possible species, I was simply content to enjoy whatever birds crossed my path on my daily walks. I did mange to scrape out 144 species in the course of my stay, and more importantly, experience at least a sample of the country’s amazing diverse birdlife.

San Gerardo is southeast of San Jose - 
uphill all but the last few miles

Cloud forest above San Gerardo (close to 8000' here)

We spent the first 3.5 days southeast of San Jose. High in the cloud forests of San Gerardo Dota (7200’), I got my first taste of Costa Rican avifauna at The Savegre Hotel, Natural Reserve and Spa. Hummingbirds were prominently featured with Magnificent, Green Violetear, White-throated mountain-gem, and Striped-tailed hummingbirds dwarfing the endemic Volcano and the miniscule Scintillant. These 6 species, and only these 6, were perpetually buzzing around the lodge’s many feeders. Besides nectar, the lodge additionally put out fruit for the birds each morning. This buffet attracted several tanager species including Silver-throated, Flame-colored, and Blue-gray. Rufous-collared sparrows, Ruddy-capped nightingale-thrush and Clay-colored thrushes hopped everywhere. Slaty flowerpiercers were bounced from flower to flower, and the fruit tree just outside our room attracted numbers of Long-tailed liky-flycatchers and Mountain elaenias. I scarcely had to move that first afternoon to find all these great birds.

Scintillant hummingbird - just 3" long!

Rufous-capped nightingale-thrush

Female white-throated mountain-gem

Day 2 was devoted to finding the Resplendant quetzal, a specialty bird of the Costa Rican highlands and arguably one of the most beautiful birds in the world. With the help of a local guide, we visited a known quetzal nest. We missed the birds on our first pass through the area, but the male appeared directly overhead a few hours later. He perched and foraged just 40 feet from us, even affording us flight views as his meter long tail flapped breathtakingly behind him. That morning, we also found Spotted wood-quail, Rufous-browed peppershrike, Emerald Toucanet, Spot-crowned woodcreeper, Yellow-winged vireo, Collared redstart, Spangle-cheeked tanager, White-napped brushfinch, and Elegant (formerly Blue-hooded) euphonia. Even as relatively novice birders, Sonia and her mom could appreciate the mind-boggling beauty of these species.

Resplendant quetzal - almost 3 feet long!

Our last morning at San Gerardo was spent on a series of short hikes. On these we added Yellowish flycatcher, Barred becard, and Common Chlorospingus. We also found 2 more quetzals. One was clearly incubating eggs as all we could see for the hour that we were in the vicinity was his two longest tail feathers sticking out of then nest! That afternoon we ventured up to Mirian’s café on the entrance road to San Gerardo. Here I added higher elevation species such as Sooty thrush, Large-footed finch, and Firery-throated hummingbird. The last of these was particularly stunning, even though I managed only a 5 second look at it.

Yolanda (Sonia's mom) hikes!

I could go on forever about our time at San Gerardo. It was beautiful, quiet, and birdy. I think the timing of our trip was just perfect in these respects. The crowds of the dry season long departed, we saw scarcely anyone in the lodge or on the roads and trails in the area. May is a shoulder month between the dry and wet seasons, and we really lucked out with the weather. We did have afternoon thunderstorms each day, but these cost us at most and hour and half of birding each day. They actually provided us, particularly Sonia’s mom, a chance to rest before the next outing. 

Blue-gray tanager

Here are my eBird Checklist from our time at San Gerardo de Dota.
May 13 – Mirian’s cafe and environs

Until next post!