Saturday, 6 February 2016

Trip Report - Costa Rica 2016


14 January - 30 January 2016

Background
     In 2011 we had travelled to Costa Rica with Jimmy and Ruth Marie Lyons, and our mutual friends Jack and Mary Dodge. The trip was organized by Ruth Marie in conjunction with the staff from Costa Rica Expeditions and we enjoyed a first class itinerary with great accommodations, fine food and, most importantly of all, an exquisite array of birds. Our guiding team consisted of that unrivalled pair, Charlie Gomez and Niño Morales, a duo who prove that synergism really exists, for when the two of them team up, one plus one really does equal five. 
     Thus, when Ruth Marie proposed a return trip to new destinations in Costa Rica, with Charlie and Niño as our companions, the lure was irresistible. Fortunately, our great friends Graham and Marg Macdonald agreed to accompany us, and Ruth Marie enlisted Dick and Gloria Harding, old friends of hers from the UK, and another friend of long standing, Nancy Newton from Atlanta, GA. At different times it looked as though we might round out the number to ten participants, but it never quite worked out, and the nine of us journeyed together.

14 January 2016
Waterloo, ON - Mississauga, ON

     We left home a day before our flight to spend the night at a hotel close to the airport where we could park during our absence and take advantage of their shuttle service to the terminal. 
     Graham and Marg backed into our driveway shortly after 16:00 and we were soon on our way. The drive into the GTA was abysmally slow with traffic delays along most of the route and the trip took about two hours. 
     The plan was to meet Graham's son, Laird, and his partner, Lindsay, for dinner, so we checked into the Quality Inn just south of Highway 401 near Dixie Road, where Laird had left a note to tell us that we should all meet up at an Indian restaurant called Avani, located quite close to the hotel. We left about fifteen minutes after arriving and sped off to the restaurant.
     What a fine choice it was! Laird and Lindsay met us shortly after we arrived and we all enjoyed absolutely first class Indian food, perhaps the best I have ever tasted, with efficient and friendly service. We ordered several different dishes and all shared. I am not sure what the others chose but Miriam and I had Gobi 65 (a fried cauliflower), Goan fish curry (the best dish of the night in my opinion), coconut chicken curry and garlic naan bread. Laird and Lindsay, who we had never met before, were scintillating companions and it was a great pleasure to have dinner with them.
     We returned to our hotel shortly after 21:00, made decaf coffee in the room, and turned in for the night.

Accommodation: Quality Inn, Mississauga, ON.  Rating: Four stars.

15 January 2016
Quality Inn - Pearson International Airport - Juan Santamaria Airport, San José, Costa Rica - Hotel Bougainvillea, Santo Domingo de Heredia

     We had arranged for a wake up call at 06:00 but were showered, dressed and sipping coffee when it came through. We met Marg and Graham for the complimentary breakfast at 06:30 and dined on typical fare, served on a sea of disposable containers - an affront to the environmental conscience of all who are subjected to this travesty. At every similar breakfast we have enjoyed in Europe it has been served on china, with regular flatware. Why this cannot be replicated in North America is beyond my level of understanding. In any even, sawing through an unyielding sausage patty on a styrofoam plate with a plastic knife is not a good way to start the day.
     The shuttle left for the airport at 07:00 and it was not long in depositing us at the terminal. We made our way through the various formalities without a hitch and waited in our boarding lounge until we boarded the plane just before 09:30. Takeoff was delayed somewhat due to issues with the baggage handling equipment, but we finally lifted off at 10:25, about thirty-five minutes past the the scheduled departure time. (Does any aircraft leave on time any more?)
     Despite it being an international flight no complimentary food was served. We both decided to have a falafel wrap, but they did not have falafel wrap. So I made a second choice (I forgot what it was) but that was sold out also. Do you have chicken wraps we asked. We hit the jackpot - they had two! We asked for a coffee but they had to make a fresh pot, so coffee was delayed. Miriam had an orange juice in the meantime.
     Ah the joys of flying! Ah the sheer glamour of being a flight attendant - a server of food, a collector of garbage, a dispenser of water, a hawker of duty-free. 
     We touched down at 14:55 San José time and sailed through the airport with ease. A representative of Costa Rica Expeditions was there to greet us before we claimed our bags and he called to make sure that our driver and greeter were there to collect us when we exited through customs and immigration, which happened as speedily as could be. Our passports were stamped without even a question being asked, and we were on our way.
     We ground through the nightmare of San José traffic (Toronto moves at a rapid rate by comparison) and arrived at that oasis of beauty and calm called the Hotel Bougainvillea at 16:30. We dropped our bags in our lovely room and went out with Marg and Graham to perambulate through the grounds.



     Red-billed Pigeons Patagioenas flavirostris and Rufous-tailed Hummingbirds Amazilia tzacati were there to bid us welcome.
     By 17:30 darkness was closing in and we returned to our rooms, meeting an hour later for dinner. We ordered a bottle of Malbec to share with Marg and Graham, and Miriam and I started with sopa negra, a traditional Costa Rican soup. I enjoyed it immensely, Miriam not so much. But then she had a mouth-watering chicken dish sautéed with tropical fruits, while I had a plato tipico with sea bass as the main attraction. It was delicious indeed. Miriam and I both then had cappuccino (hers decaf) and we returned to our room just before 20:30.
     The room faced the road, and even though it was charming, the noise of incessant traffic was not inconsequential. However, it seemed to quieten down as it got later and we both slept well.

Accommodation: Hotel Bougainvillea  Rating: Five stars

All species 15 January: Red-billed Pigeon, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Brown Jay, Great-tailed Grackle.

16 January 2016
Hotel Bougainvillea

     Today was a glorious day to simply relax, enjoy the gardens and permit Costa Rica to sink into the skin. 
     It was cool and pleasant when I eased myself out the door, fifteen degrees perhaps, with the slightest hint of a breeze. It was still dark and I parked myself on a bench waiting for the sun to come up, all the while listening to the growing chorus of bird song. 
     Clay-coloured Thrush Turdus grayi is the national bird of Costa Rica and fittingly it seemed, it was the first species I saw; several of them in fact, flitting around and starting to feed. This one was perched on a blossom high atop a tree and seemed to be gleaning insects hidden within the flower.


Clay-coloured Thrush
     The loud hum created by their wings alerted me to two Rufous-tailed Hummingbirds engaged in an aerial chase and a Great Kiskadee Pitangus sulphuratus called its name. The world was awakening!
     Red-billed Pigeons drank from one of the ponds and White-tipped Doves Leptotila verreauxi strutted about with regal swagger.


White-tipped Dove
     At one corner of the garden I saw Brown Jays Psilorhinus morio and would see them again the following morning in the same area. The fact that I never spotted them again at any other time during the day led me to believe that perhaps they were roosting there and left to go elsewhere to forage after daybreak.
     Hoffmann's Woodpecker Melanerpes hoffmannii is a lifer for many visitors to Costa Rica; I wonder how many people have seen their first individual in the gardens at the Bougainvillea where it is a resident species.


Hoffmann's Woodpecker


     I wandered around the grounds until about 07:15 when I went back to the room to shower and shave before going down to breakfast. Miriam had been out in the garden too having arrived there after I did, but our paths had not crossed and she had returned to the room before me. She had seen Blue-and White Swallows Pygochelidon cyanoleuca, a species I had missed, and we had both been enthralled by the flocks of noisy Finsch's Parakeets Psittacara finschi that wheeled around and landed in the treetops.

     We met Graham and Marg for breakfast and there was a fine array of items on the buffet table, along with hot, delicious Costa Rican coffee. Miriam and I both started with fresh fruit, especially papaya. Miriam also had yogurt, returned for more fruit and had a muffin with honey. I couldn't resist Costa Rica's national dish, rice and beans, and added a little plantain, sausage and an egg. 

     We returned to the room for a while and then went back out into the garden together. It was a perfect day, warm with a light breeze and the butterflies and the birds were everywhere. Tropical Kingbirds Tyrannus melancholicus were common and this one perched obligingly for a photograph.

     


Tropical Kingbird


     A little after 11:00 we went back to the room and sat out on the balcony until going down to meet Graham and Marg for lunch. Graham and Marg decided to have a glass of draft Imperial beer at the urging of the waiter, so Miriam joined them in that choice and I had a glass of cold white wine. Miriam and I both had a chicken sandwich for lunch on ciabatta bread. It was good, but a little dry. On the table there was an excellent fresh ketchup in which to dip the french fries that accompanied the sandwiches.
     At the table next to us we noted that the couple seated there had a drink which looked cool and refreshing, so we asked them what it was. It is called Limonada con hierbabuena, a lime based drink with the addition of fresh mint. I ordered one for us all to try and found it to be about as delicious as could be.
     Marg and Miriam decided to go for a swim in the pool after lunch so they picked up towels at the reception desk. A far more civilized thing to do, it seemed to me, was to have a nap, so that is what I did. This is the land of siesta after all. When the ladies returned from the pool and described to me the whole programme of aquarobics they had gone through I was vicariously exhausted despite my nap!
     We all went out again to walk around the gardens, birding all the while, and ran into Ruth Marie, Jimmy and Nancy who had arrived earlier. Hugs and introductions were exchanged and we all delighted in seeing this very handsome Green Spiny Lizard Sceloporus malachitus.




     It rapidly became the most photographed lizard in Costa Rica that day!
     We birded until the light started to fade and then headed back to our room around 18:15, plenty of time to get ready to meet Marg and Graham for dinner at 19:00. Tonight we both decided to go with two appetizers; we each had beef carpaccio (divine), Miriam had French onion soup while I chose eggplant parmesan. Graham selected a fine bottle of Gascon Shiraz for us all to share. There was not a scrap left on anyone's plate and four satisfied smiles bespoke our appreciation of the food. Miriam and I finished with a cappuccino.


Miriam and Graham Scanning the Trees

     We were back in our room by 21:00 where we did important things like check bird lists and read for a while before turning in for the night.

All species 16 January: Black Vulture, Turkey Vulture, Great Egret, Red-billed Pigeon, Blue Ground Dove, White-tipped Dove, White-winged Dove, Squirrel Cuckoo, Swift sp., Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Hoffmann's Woodpecker, Finsch's Parakeet, Great Kiskadee, Social Flycatcher, Tropical Kingbird, Vireo sp., Brown Jay, Blue-and-white Swallow, House Wren, Rufous-naped Wren, Clay-coloured Thrush, Yellow Warbler, Blue-grey Tanager, Buff-throated Saltator, Greyish Saltator, Rufous-collared Sparrow, White-eared Ground Sparrow, Great-tailed Grackle, Baltimore Oriole. 




17 January 2016
Hotel Bougainvillea

     Again I was up early and roaming the gardens, drinking in the sensations of a tropical sunrise and the accompanying burst of life. Miriam joined me after a while and together we wandered and probed and marvelled at the panoply spread before us. These Red-billed Pigeons rejoiced in their own special way.



     At 08:00 we joined Graham and Marg for breakfast, and Miriam, that paragon of moderation and good judgement, had fruit, yogurt and a muffin. I on the other hand, decadent to the core, had fruit, rice and beans, potatoes and plantain - with a muffin to top it all off. Needless to say we floated in endless cups of superb Costa Rican coffee.
    Back to the room to relax for a while on the balcony, following which we once again visited the gardens. It was quite amazing just how common, and all the while enchanting,  Rufous-tailed Hummingbird was.


Rufous-tailed Hummingbird
        Squirrel Cuckoo Piaya cayana is another impressive species that is relatively easy to find in the garden of the Hotel Bougainvillea. This large,impressive bird camouflages itself well, but a little patient stalking is sure to produce a sighting. In fact, at one point Miriam and I had a pair at a nest.


Squirrel Cuckoo
     Among the various species of squirrels found in Central America Variegated Squirrel Sciurus variegatoides is surely one of the most attractive, and it was a common inhabitant at Bougainvillea. This individual has secured for itself a substantial meal.


Variegated Squirrel
     I checked my records from our visit to the hotel in 2011 and there is no record of Rufous-naped Wren Campylorynchus rufinucha but on this occasion it was ubiquitous, very vocal and utterly charming. We always heard it before seeing it, but little parties of four or five birds would amuse us to no end with their antics.


Rufous-naped Wren
       As mentioned earlier, Clay-coloured Thrush is a very common bird and one or two were never far from view. This individual was one of several enjoying one of the bird baths. As seems to be the case with all Turdus thrushes it really seems to enjoy bathing and reenters the water over and over again, immersing itself and beating its wings furiously to spray water over its entire body. The thrushes shared the water with Red-billed Pigeons and there was none of the usual inter-specific squabbling that takes place among birds. Perhaps water has a cathartic effect on them all.


Clay-coloured Thrush
     We went for lunch with Marg and Graham at 12:30 and ate lightly today. We split a fried fish sandwich with fries and both enjoyed the lemon/mint drink we had discovered yesterday. Dick and Gloria Harding, the final members of our group came over to introduce themselves, having arrived late the previous day.
     From our balcony, after lunch, we spotted a soaring White-tailed Kite Elanus leucurus and a dramatic Northern Crested Caracara Caracara cheriway.
     Graham was feeling a little out of sorts and elected to stay in his room while Marg and Miriam went swimming. No doubt the following picture will elicit inquiries from numerous magazines for use as the cover photograph - perhaps the swimsuit edition of Sports Illustrated will not be among them!



     It's a great representation, however, of the love of my life and one of the greatest friends anyone could ever wish for.
     Sensibly, I opted for a little snooze while the ladies swam, splashed and floated. Then I went out to look at birds and was joined by Jimmy in the tower. While we were chatting Miriam and Marg came along to join us,
     At 18:00 we met with Charlie Gomez and he briefed us on all the details of our trip. Following that we all dined together for the first time. Miriam started with a Caprese salad while I had asparagus. We then both followed with beef tenderloin with veggies and rice, although I think I had ordered chicken and the meals got confused somehow. In any event it was delicious and I ordered a bottle of Merlot for the four of us to share; Graham, however, did not feel up to having any, so, with great reluctance, the three of us made sure that it did not go to waste. Dessert was a coconut flan. I followed, as usual, with a cappuccino, Miriam eschewed the sweet flavour of coffee this evening.
     Returning to our room at around 20:30 we packed very lightly for our flight to Tortuguero the next morning and fell into the restful slumber of the virtuous and contented!

All species 17 January: Black Vulture, Turkey Vulture, White-tailed Kite, Red-billed Pigeon, White-winged Dove, Squirrel Cuckoo, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Hoffmann's Woodpecker, Crested Caracara, Finsch's Parakeet, Tropical Kingbird, Yellow-throated Vireo, Brown Jay, Blue-and-White Swallow, Rufous-naped Wren, Clay-coloured Thrush, Blue-grey Tanager, Rufous-collared Sparrow, Great-tailed Grackle, Baltimore Oriole

18 January 2016
Hotel Bougainvillea - Tobia Bolaños Airport - Tortuguero

     We were up before our 05:00 alarm, made a coffee in the room and had a granola bar, since breakfast was to be taken at Tortuga Lodge.
     Niño picked us up and by 05:45 we were on our way to the airport.



     It was slow going through San José and when we arrived at the airport we were all excited to see our plane waiting for us on the tarmac. There were various formalities to go through but everything proceeded smoothly and we were soon waiting in the terminal.



     Niño left with the bulk of our baggage to drive to San Vito where he would meet us a few days hence, and we boarded the plane for our short flight to Tortuguero. For someone unfamiliar with buckling into a seat on a small aircraft it is a logistical challenge of great magnitude. It was quite comical to watch one after the other of us attempt auto-strangulation! Finally, however, we all mastered the technique, were strapped in securely and we took off, flying over the sprawling, and ever expanding, suburbs of San José. More than a third of the population of Costa Rica now resides in the greater San José area.



     Soon we were flying over vast plantations of bananas and pineapples, aptly called green deserts, for nothing much lives there, and there is a disproportionate use of irrigation and excessive application of chemicals of various kinds.



     The flight was a brief twenty-five minutes and we quickly disembarked, walked a very short distance to a boat, and were ferried across the water to Tortuga Lodge. The humidity of this area on the Caribbean coast was already oppressive; I think it is seldom less than 100%. The pages of my notebook were always damp and crinkled and when I wrote sometimes the paper would be so soggy it balled up around the pencil tip. The lodge, however, was lovely!



     Even before stepping onto the dock we heard that strange, electronics-gone- wrong, song of Montezuma Oropendola Psarocolius montezuma and we looked up to see them flying to and fro, and perched in palms, with the males acting out that curious behaviour where they almost fall over on the branch and then right themselves.



     A substantial colony was right at the lodge and we were able to see these wonderful birds every day. Here is a nesting tree with typical long, pendant nests.



    We were all hungry by now and breakfast was eagerly anticipated. It was well worth the wait! There was juice and coffee, fruit, fruit and more fruit, homemade granola, local yogurt - and that was just the beginning. It was followed by scrambled eggs, rice and beans, fried plantain, the tastiest and best cooked bacon the world has ever seen, pancakes and syrup, and tortillas. Now I don't think anyone sampled everything, but I felt it was my duty, since they had gone to the trouble to prepare it all, to at least give it a shot. I passed on the pancakes and syrup, but I made an honest try to at least nibble on a little of everything else. I am sure I did not let Canada down!
    After breakfast we had a short briefing by the staff of the lodge, where several naturalists are in residence; then some of us went for a stroll with Charlie. Much was observed including this opportunistic Green Heron Butorides virescens fishing from the breakwater wall and the boat, where it would cunningly drop a leaf into the water, which attracted the attention of unwary fish, which quickly became part of the heron's snack du jour.



     A Great Kiskadee also promenaded up and down, snagging insects as large as dragonflies as they passed by.



    There were lizards of various kinds to be seen, but the granddaddy of them all was a giant Green Iguana Iguana iguana. Here is a close up of his face, gorgeous and refined by any standards - if you are an iguana that is.



     Another wonderful attraction was a group of Proboscis Bats Rhynchonyteris naso, all lined up like little soldiers on the trunk of a tree, waiting for nightfall.



     Lunch was at 12:00 (who could believe we could ever eat again after breakfast?) and a fine affair it was. We started with a sea bass ceviche, followed by a salad that included heart of palm, chickpeas, tomatoes and onion, with lettuce. The main course was chicken breast fajitas with tortillas and a plate of carrots and beans. I had a limonada to drink, Miriam stuck with water and dessert was home-made coconut ice cream. Everything was deeelicious!   
     We finished lunch around 13:15 and everyone was at their leisure until 14:00 when a boat tour was scheduled. 
     Our trusty, clean cut boatman, Leo, was waiting for us when we arrived at the dock and we all took off for an enjoyable afternoon on the water. It was extremely hot and humid and the breeze created by the boat was very welcome.


Leo
     We meandered through various canals, lagoons and bayous, with Charlie looking for interesting birds and other wildlife, as were we all, of course. Leo was no slouch at spotting things either; doubtless he spends so much time on the water he is familiar with all the hot spots and knows where to find different species.


Charlie Gomez




     I forget whether it was Charlie or Leo who initially spotted this Brown Three-toed Sloth Bradypus variegatus but it had a baby with it. Unfortunately my pictures didn't capture the young sloth, but it was an absolute miniature of its parent.





     A Great Potoo Nyctibius grandis is a very difficult bird to spot and I suspect that once one is located the word is passed around from boatman to boatman so that they can take their passengers to see it. This does not diminish in any way the pleasure in seeing one and we were very happy indeed to encounter this individual.



     Anhinga Anhinga anhinga was very common along the waterways and this one was seen drying its wings, a posture commonly observed as these aquatic birds do not have waterproof feathers.



       Bare-throated Tiger Heron Tigrisoma mexicanum was not difficult to observe.



     Nor was Northern Jacana Jacana spinosa and this individual came right alongside the boat. At one point I could have reached out and touched it.



     We birded until around 17:30 and, in the company of Short-tailed Nighthawks Leurocalis semitorquatus, headed for the lodge. When we returned to the dock we were greeted with ice cold mango drinks and a cold, wet cloth. What luxury! What pampering! 
     Dinner was served at 19:00, prior to which we did the daily checklist, as we would do each night.  Graham ordered a bottle of Chardonnay for the four of us to share. The quality of the meals at Tortuga Lodge continued to be very high indeed and Miriam started with a grilled vegetable salad, while I had a really tasty fish soup. Miriam followed up with chicken, mashed potatoes and vegetables; I had grilled sea bass with rice and vegetables, and tropical fruit breeze.  Dessert was passion fruit pie with vanilla ice cream. There were smiles on the faces of all the diners when we left the table!
     We read a little, I played Scrabble against the computer, and we were in bed by 21:30, comfortable, snug and content. A great night's sleep was the predictable consequence.

Accommodation: Tortuga Lodge   Rating: Five stars

All species 18 January:  Magnificent Frigatebird, Anhinga, Brown Pelican, Bare-throated Tiger Heron, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Little Blue Heron, Western Cattle Egret, Green Heron, Yellow-crowned Night Heron, Black Vulture, Turkey Vulture, Osprey, Sungrebe, Northern Jacana, Spotted Sandpiper, Laughing Gull, Royal Tern, Pale-vented Pigeon, Squirrel Cuckoo, Short-tailed Nighthawk, Great Potoo, Black-throated Trogon, Ringed Kingfisher, American Pygmy Kingfisher, White-whiskered Puffbird, Chestnut-mandibled Toucan, Chestnut-coloured Woodpecker, Pale-billed Woodpecker, Red-lored Amazon (H), Mealy Amazon, Great Green Macaw, Black-crowned Antshrike, Great-crested Flycatcher (H), Great Kiskadee, Tropical Kingbird, Purple-throated Fruitcrow, Masked Tityra, Lesser Greenlet (H), Tree Swallow, House Wren, Stripe-breasted Wren, Bay Wren, Clay-coloured Thrush, Blue-grey Tanager, Great-tailed Grackle, Montezuma Oropendola, Olive-backed Euphonia. 

19 January 2016
Tortuga Lodge - Barra del Colorado - Taño Palma

     It rained heavily during the night and we were awakened from time to time by the rain pounding on the roof. We had set the alarm for 05:15 but were alert before then.
     Breakfast was scheduled for 06:15 but we arrived ahead of time knowing that Charlie would already be there. In fact he mentioned to us that he had been coming to Tortuguero for over twenty years and had never missed a sunrise and was not about to start. Coffee and muffins were available and it was pleasant indeed to share the emerging day with Charlie.
     The same sumptuous fare as yesterday was spread before us, and no one went away hungry. It started to rain again while we were having breakfast, but it had stopped by the time we boarded the boat with Leo at 07:30. The fact that it was overcast actually made the temperature a little more bearable.
     Not long after leaving the dock we spotted a couple of Keel-billed Toucans Ramphastos sulfuratus, spectacular and beautiful, and it certainly reinforced  the fact that we were in a tropical paradise.



     Sometimes this bird is commonly known as the Fruit Loops bird, having appeared on the box of the popular cereal. I wonder how many people who ate the cereal ever got to see the bird?
     We motored out at relatively high speed towards the confluence with the ocean and were able to closely observe a mixed flock of Laughing Gulls Leucophaeus atricilla and Royal Terns Thalasseus maximus. A few Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus and Spotted Sandpipers Actitis macularius were also present.



     As Leo started to meander along the creeks we saw numerous kingfishers streaking along the water. It was quite remarkable to see two Ringed Kingfishers Megaceryle torquata and two Amazon Kingfishers Chloroceryle amazona perched in the same tree.



      Shortly after this sighting it started to rain heavily, but ponchos had been provided by the lodge and we were able to stay dry and, more importantly, keep our cameras and binoculars dry. Leo knew of a little docking area where we could shelter under cover to wait out the downpour, so the rain affected us in only a minor way.
      When the rain abated we started again to meander along the waterways,  soon coming across this juvenile Bare-throated Tiger Heron.



     Several Prothonotary Warblers Protonotaria citrea were moving around in the same area and finally one was open enough for a photograph.



     Numerous Mangrove Swallows Tachycineta albilinea swooped and glided overhead, mostly too fast to permit picture taking but a couple started to joust over the rights to perch on a stump in the water. One of them retained it long enough to capture this image.



     By now it was past 11:00 and Leo started to make his way towards the lodge. Upon arrival at the dock we were greeted with cold juice and cold, wet towels, an absolutely lovely way to come ashore.
     Lunch was at 12:30 and we started with sopa negra followed by a tossed salad with a pineapple and raspberry vinaigrette. The main course was chicken cooked in a coconut sauce, served with patacones and rice. It was cooked to perfection - tender and delicious. A coconut flan was a delightful dessert. I had limonada to drink, Miriam stuck with water. 
     Marg and Miriam had a quick swim after lunch. I didn't record what I did but I have little doubt that I took a nap. It was certainly easy to settle back in a hammock and drift away!
     At 15:00 we assembled once again at the dock to go out in the boat to the Sea Turtle Conservancy. We were given an interesting and informative presentation, following which we walked through the village - an enjoyable experience. Grey-breasted Martins Progne chalybea were perched on the wires.
     Meandering back at a leisurely pace we saw this Green Ibis Messembrinibis cayennensis. It led us on a bit of a chase at first but finally came to rest and stayed for a while, enabling us all to take pictures.



      In the same general area we spotted two Great Curassows Crax rubra and even though they were quite distant and well concealed in the foliage, we were able to manoeuvre into position to take a photograph of this quite remarkable bird.


  
     Leo had us back at the lodge by 17:00 where the customary greeting of cold drinks and cold cloths was enacted. Pampered, spoiled, indulged? You pick the adjective.
     On the way back to our room this Little Blue Heron Egretta caerulea was stalking prey.....



......and a parade of Leaf Cutter Ants, industrious as always, was busy ferrying leaf segments to the colony's storage chambers.



     We relaxed until dinner at 19:00. Miriam and I both had fish stew. She followed up with sea bass while I had a vegetarian hamburger with eggplant substituting for the bread. Dessert was a tres leches cake. All was very good indeed.
     We did the check list after dinner, following which I went to settle up my account because we were leaving early in the morning. While I was doing so an employee of the lodge directed everyone's attention to a Boa Constrictor Boa constrictor. Unfortunately I missed this sighting. 
     Returning to our room we found two small coconut liqueurs and a jar of peanuts and raisins - a delicate gesture for our final night. 
     Our stay at Tortuga Lodge had been memorable indeed.

All species 19 January: Magnificent Frigatebird, Neotropic Cormorant, Anhinga, Brown Pelican, Bare-throated Tiger Heron, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Little Blue Heron, Green Heron, Yellow-crowned Night Heron, Green Ibis, Black Vulture, Turkey Vulture, Osprey, Grey Hawk, Northern Jacana, Spotted Sandpiper, Whimbrel, Laughing Gull, Royal Tern, Sandwich Tern, Pale-vented Pigeon, White-collared Swift, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Slaty-tailed Trogon, Ringed Kingfisher, Belted Kingfisher, Amazon Kingfisher, Green Kingfisher, White-whiskered Puffbird, Collared Araçari, Keel-billed Toucan, Chestnut-mandibled Toucan, Black-cheeked Woodpecker, Lineated Woodpecker, Laughing Falcon, Red-lored Amazon, Mealy Amazon, Great Green Macaw, Northern Barred Woodcreeper, Streak-headed Woodcreeper, Great Crested Flycatcher, Great Kiskadee, Boat-billed Flycatcher, Social Flycatcher, Tropical Kingbird, Purple-throated Fruitcrow (H), White-collared Manakin, Rose-throated Becard, Yellow-throated Vireo, Grey-breasted Martin, Mangrove Swallow, House Wren, Stripe-breasted Wren, Clay-coloured Thrush, Prothonotary Warbler, Olive-crowned Yellowthroat, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Variable Seedeater, Summer Tanager, Great-tailed Grackle, Baltimore Oriole, Scarlet-rumped Cacique (H), Montezuma Oropendola.
    

20 January 2016
Tortuga Lodge - San Vito - Las Cruces Biological Station/Wilson Botanic Gardens - San Joaquin Marshes - Las Cruces Biological Station

     Miriam was feeling a little queasy this morning so she stayed in the room while I went out with Charlie and a few others to do a little early morning birding. Ironically the highlight of the morning was not a bird but a Strawberry Poison Dart Frog Dendrobates pumilio. It is safe enough to handle and one of us picked it up. It is probably not permitted to do so and I will not reveal the name of the handler! The picture reveals just how tiny it is.



     Breakfast consisted of the usual splendid array of treats. Miriam had just fruit and a little scrambled egg. I had fruit, rice and beans, egg, bacon, tortilla and, of course coffee. Coffee is a given! One thing North Americans often long for when travelling overseas is what we consider good coffee. It was about as perfect as it gets everywhere in Costa Rica.
     We were ferried across the canal by Leo, our trusty boatman, and bid a sad farewell to Tortuga Lodge where everyone had basked in luxury and had been pampered and coddled with good food at every meal. 
     When we boarded the plane for our flight to San Vito we once again enacted the comic opera "Buckle up without Strangulation" but I have to admit we were much more proficient this time around! 
     Our flight to San Vito took a little less than an hour and the conditions were perfect - clear visibility all the way. Charlie, who has made this trip many times, mentioned that it was the best he had ever taken. Obviously we were good luck talismans for him! Here is a view of the Cordillerra de Talamanca as we flew over it.



      When we arrived at the San Vito airstrip I took a picture of Miriam with her new friends, before going over to meet Niño, our old friend, with the bus.


    
       It was wonderful to see Niño again. He is a steady, careful driver and a great companion.
       Before arriving at Las Cruces, we stopped in San Vito at a supermarket so that we could buy necessities, like wine, for example, since other than juice and coffee, no other beverages were available at the biological station.
       We arrived at Las Cruces at 10:25 and settled into our room. Soon after we went to an upper deck to watch a whole range of birds coming to the feeders there. Here are just a few of them.


Green Honeycreeper (male) Chlorophanes spiza
Buff-throated Saltator Saltator maximus
Speckled Tanager Tangara guttata
Silver-throated Tanager Tangara icterocephala
     Las Cruces is a working centre for the study of biology in all its disciplines, for students from all over the world. It was inspiring to see all these young people there. I have little doubt that many of them will go on to do great work in their own countries, and will forge friendships and professional alliances that will last them a lifetime.
     We took lunch at noon an the veranda of the dining room. It consisted of beef in an olive and mushroom sauce, potatoes in butter and parsley, green beans, heart of palm and cabbage salad. There was ice cream for dessert. 
     When we returned to our room, Miriam, still not feeling a hundred percent, lay on the bed with a cold cloth on her forehead while I watched birds from the balcony. Little did I know it but Graham, just a couple of doors down, was watching a male White-crested Coquette Lophornis adorabilis feeding in a bush just off his balcony. Had I known this I would have broken down his door! No one else, for the entire duration of the trip, would see a male so the bragging rights remain his and his alone.
     At around 14:30 I left to go birding with Charlie and Niño, and most of the others.  We visited the San Joaquin Marshes where the target bird was the distinctive subspecies of Masked Yellowthroat Geothlypis aequinoctialis, Chiriqui Yellowthroat, considered a unique species by some authorities. This was the only location where we saw Purple Gallinule Porphyrio martinicus, a beautiful adult male. We returned to Las Cruces and birded around the grounds. I arrived back in the room at 17:30. Miriam was feeling a little better than when I had left her, but was still a tad below par.
     We went for dinner a little after 18:00 ( here they ring the bell when the dining room is open) and we were served tortilla pie (somewhat like lasagna), salad, zucchini and potato chips. Dessert was fresh watermelon. Tonight Graham provided the wine (he should have brought Champagne after seeing the White-crested Coquette) but Miriam passed. Marg, Graham and I enjoyed it, however.
     We did the nightly check list after dinner and were back in our room by 20:00. Miriam was asleep soon after.

Accommodation: Las Cruces Biological Station  Rating: Three and a half stars.

All species 20 January:  Blue-winged Teal, Grey-headed Chachalaca, Crested Guan (H), Bare-throated Tiger Heron, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Little Blue Heron, Western Cattle Egret, Green Heron, Yellow-crowned Night Heron, Black Vulture, Turkey Vulture, Swallow-tailed Kite, Common Black Hawk, Broad-winged Hawk, Grey-necked Wood Rail (H), Purple Gallimule, Common Gallinule, Southern Lapwing, Northern Jacana, Lesser Yellowlegs, Laughing Gull, Sandwich Tern, Scaled Pigeon, Ruddy Pigeon, Squirrel Cuckoo, Smooth-billed Ani, Vaux's Swift, Costa Rican Swift, Scaly-breasted Hummingbird, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Slaty-tailed Trogon, Blue-diademed Motmot, Ringed Kingfisher, Amazon Kingfisher, Collared Araçari, Keel-billed Toucan (H), Chestnut-mandibled Toucan, Golden-olive Woodpecker, Lineated Woodpecker (H), Crested Caracara, Yellow-headed Caracara, Laughing Falcon (H), Blue-headed Parrot, Red-lored Amazon, Finsch's Parakeet, Black-faced Antthrush (H), Northern Barred Woodcreeper (H), Paltry Tyrannulet, Bright-rumped Attila (H), Dusky-capped Flycatcher (H), Great Kiskadee, Boat-billed Flycatcher, Social Flycatcher, Grey-capped Flycatcher, Tropical Kingbird, Cinnamon Becard, Yellow-throated Vireo, Blue-and-White Swallow, Southern Rough-winged Swallow, Mangrove Swallow, House Wren, Rufous-breasted Wren (H), Clay-coloured Thrush, Tennessee Warbler, Mourning Warbler, Masked (Chiriqui) Yellowthroat, Cherrie's Tanager, Blue-grey Tanager, Palm Tanager, Golden-hooded Tanager, Speckled Tanager, Silver-throated Tanager, Scarlet-thighed Dacnis, Blue Dacnis, Green Honeycreeper, Variable Seedeater, Bananaquit, Buff-throated Saltator, Streaked Saltator, Black-striped Sparrow, Common Bush Tanager, Summer Tanager, Great-tailed Grackle, Chestnut-headed Oropendola, Montezuma Oropendola, Crested Oropendola, Thick-billed Euphonia, House Sparrow.

21 January 2016
Las Cruces Biological Station

     Miriam and I were both awake early; she was feeling pretty much back to her old self. She was in the shower when I went up to the deck at 05:30 where she joined me about a half hour later. As was the case yesterday there was an abundance of species to be seen, especially after Charlie placed fresh bananas there. Fresh, hot coffee was available for the early bird watchers.
     It doesn't get much more stunning than this motmot, formerly known as Blue-crowned Motmot and still considered a single species by some authorities. However, it has been split into multiple species by the IOC whose taxonomy I follow, based on the work of Gary Stiles, one of Costa Rica's foremost ornithologists, who now teaches at the national university in Bogotá, Colombia. The species found in Costa Rica is known as Blue-diademed Motmot.


Blue-diademed Motmot Momotus lessonii 

     Yesterday I included a picture of a male Green Honeycreeper. This is a female.



     To follow with another female, this is a female Spot-crowned Euphonia, quite distinct from the male and equally appealing.



     When the breakfast bell was rung at 06:30 we took our coffee into the dining room and seated ourselves for breakfast. There was rice and beans, bacon and ham, pineapple and papayas, and a bread with a cherry topping. There was also jam, sour cream and cream cheese. Marg wanted honey and they obligingly brought it to her.
     After breakfast we all trooped off to Graham and Marg's room to see whether we could locate the White-crested Coquette, but it was all to no avail. Personally, I think that Graham had captured it and hidden it in his shoe!
     Pretty much the whole group joined Charlie and Niño to bird around the gardens and a fine, cohesive and friendly group we were.



Jimmy, Charlie, Nancy, Niño, Marg


     The distinct highlight of the morning walk for me was the presence of a large flock of Finsch's Parakeets, wheeling noisily through the canopy and finally all alighting in a stand of palms. Even though psittacids tend to generally immediately blend into their surroundings, we were able to get excellent looks at numerous individuals as they went about their business.





     Just before returning to our room we saw this Central American Agouti Dasyprocta punctata foraging in the forest.



      We got back to our room around 11:00 and sat out on the balcony to observe birds from there. The temperature was very comfortable, quite a contrast from the heat and humidity of Tortuguero.
      Around 11:45 we left to go back to the observation balcony near the dining room where different species were patronizing the feeders and perching in the surrounding trees.


Blue-headed Parrot Pionus menstruus
  
Black-striped Sparrow Arremonops conirostris


Blue-grey Tanager Thraupis episcopus

Four Silver-throated Tanagers
       This male Cherrie's Tanager Ramphocelus costaricensis, a species endemic to Costa Rica, entertained us royally.     


  

        The lunch bell clanged at noon and we made our way to the table for spare ribs, chickpeas in tomato sauce, fried plantain and cabbage salad - all very tasty. Desert was a flan - and of course we had coffee.
        We relaxed in our room until 14:00 when we headed out with Charlie and Niño to a tower which served as a great observation point for birds. Several others started out with us, but two by two they left until only the stalwart Nancy remained to see the birds. 
         Birding was a little slow from the tower initially, but numerous Fiery-billed Araçaris put on quite a show for us.



        We also had our first sighting of Bay-headed Tanager Tangara gyrola.


     
         After waiting patiently a mixed flock came through and there was a good deal of activity, with numerous different species. Unfortunately, I was too busy watching the birds to keep decent notes and I am unable to accurately say which species predominated. It was great fun to be there, however.
         We were back in our room by 17:15 and went for dinner at 18:00. There was fish, really tough corn on the cob (it would be cattle corn here), vegetables and a cabbage salad. Most of the food was barely warm, unfortunately, having been placed on the table in serving dishes long before we sat down to eat. We took a bottle of wine to share with Marg and Graham. 
          I was more than a little astounded when Charlie casually stated that "three more people will be coming with us tomorrow." This was news to me and not welcome news either since it would take our group up to an unreasonable total of fourteen. At fourteen participants I would never have signed up for the tour. I asked whether we could get to vote on the matter and was told in an arbitrary and high-handed manner by Ruth Marie that she and Charlie had decided the others would be coming along and that the matter was closed. I was stunned and truly dismayed. When did two people, and especially the guide as one of them, decide that, without any consultation with anyone else, they would increase the  group by three people to include their friends? In any event, it was clear that nothing could be done about it, but I wonder what the management of Costa Rica Expeditions would think of this approach and whether in fact their insurance even covered people other than clients in their vehicles.  Are their guides permitted to ask along their friends without any consultation with their paying clients? It was shoddy treatment of the other members of our group and unworthy of either Charlie or Ruth Marie.   
         We did the checklist and then went back to our room. I left almost immediately to go owling with Charlie and Niño, but with little success.
         Miriam was already in bed when I returned to the room, and I turned in before 20:00.

All species 21 January: Grey-headed Chachalaca, Crested Guan, Western Cattle Egret, Black Vulture, Turkey Vulture, Swallow-tailed Kite, Broad-winged Hawk, Scaled Pigeon, Squirrel Cuckoo, Scaly-breasted Hummingbird (H), White-tailed Emerald, Charming Hummingbird, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Blue-diademed Motmot, Pied Puffbird, Fiery-billed Araçari, Chestnut-mandibled Toucan, Hoffmann's Woodpecker, Smoky-brown Woodpecker, Yellow-headed Caracara, Laughing Falcon, Blue-headed Parrot, White-crowned Parrot, Finsch's Parakeet, Russet Antshrike, Black-faced Antthrush, Wedge-billed Woodcreeper, Streak-headed Woodcreeper, Red-faced Spinetail, Paltry Tyrannulet, Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, Dusky-capped Flycatcher, Great Kiskadee, Social Flycatcher, Tropical Kingbird, Black-crowned Tityra, Masked Tityra, Lesser Greenlet, Rufous-breasted Wren (H), Clay-coloured Thrush, Golden-winged Warbler, Black-and-White Warbler, Tennessee Warbler, Tropical Parula, Blackburnian Warbler, Yellow Warbler, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Slate-throated Whitestart, Cherrie's Tanager, Blue-grey Tanager, Palm Tanager, Golden-hooded Tanager, Speckled Tanager, Bay-headed Tanager, Silver-throated Tanager, Scarlet-thighed Dacnis, Green Honeycreeper, Variable Seedeater, Bananaquit, Buff-throated Saltator, Streaked Saltator, Black-striped Sparrow, Summer Tanager, Great-tailed Grackle, Baltimore Oriole, Chestnut-headed Oropendola, Thick-billed Euphonia, Spot-crowned Euphonia.

22 January 2016
Las Cruces Biological Station - Las Alturas de Coton - Las Cruces Biological Station

     We were up at about 05:30 and looked out the window to a foggy morning. As usual, we went up to the deck where we could get a coffee, and birded for a while before breakfast. There was rice and beans, cheese, cake, papaya and pineapple. For those who care to spread stuff on their cake there was guava jam, cream cheese and sour cream.
     We were back in our room by about seven o'clock to get ready to join the others on the bus at 07:20 for our journey to Las Alturas. We were joined by a biologist from Las Cruces. Along the way we picked up the other two supernumeraries and then proceeded towards Las Alturas. 
     Several stops were made to do some birding, at one of which we observed this structure containing a colony of stingless bees. The entrance to the nest is clearly visible on this elaborate construction and it would have been really interesting to have been able to see inside.



     At one point, stopped by a bridge where the water was rushing rapidly and creating quite a noise, Niño demonstrated his incredible hearing acuity. Above the roar of the rapids he detected the sound of a hummingbird, which he quickly identified as White-crested Coquette, and then high in a tree where I am quite sure none of us would have seen it, located a tiny nest with the female sitting on it. It was really quite astonishing. We all congratulated Niño on this feat and I think that none of us was more appreciative than Charlie. I believe this was the first nest of this species that he had ever seen. The sincerity of Charlie's appreciation to Niño was a shining indication of the very close bond they have. As a birding duo they are hard to beat.
     By the time we arrived at the entrance to the reserve at Las Alturas de Coton most people were in need of a bio break, so the biologist from Las Cruces arranged with the security guard for us all to use his house. Very graciously I thought, he agreed to this. I am not sure I would have welcomed fourteen people traipsing through my house to use the bathroom.
     His children were delightful and this little boy was very bright and was quick to engage us in conversation.



     He was anxious to tell us his age, his grade at school, how he was doing and a hundred other things about his life. I presented him with a pin from the Region of Waterloo, one from the Province of Ontario and a Maple Leaf flag of Canada. He is wearing two of the three as you can see in the picture above.
     Marg was especially entranced with the children and spent quite a bit of time with them. They were anxious to take pictures of her and at one point the kids sang the Costa Rican national anthem and she responded with a resounding "O Canada." I wish I had been there to witness it! Marg says that I should have been; then we could have rendered "O Canada" in both French and English!
I am sure the echo of her dulcet tones still resonates through the hills and valleys of Las Alturas!
     The Las Cruces biologist found a shrew dead on the ground and picked it up so that we could all see it.




     Not far from where we located the nest of the White-crested Coquette we saw this White-whiskered Puffbird Malacoptila panamensis. It was in dappled light so the picture is partly in shade, but the the characteristics of the bird are quite clear, I believe.



     Lunch was brought with us from Las Cruces, based on selections we had all made the previous day. I had rice and beans, with chicken and tortillas. Miriam had egg salad sandwiches onto which her water had leaked so they were soggy and not the most palatable things she had ever eaten. There were also crackers, cookies and fruit, and various boxed juices, most of which never got eaten, so we dropped it all off at the house where we had used the bathroom, where I am sure it was put to good use. The children waved vigorously to us as they munched on slices of watermelon. 
     Along the way we stopped for Gartered Trogon and our first White-winged Tanager Piranga leucoptera of the trip.


Gartered Trogon

White-winged Tanager

     We had been joking with Charlie and Niño that we should go into Panama since we were so close to the border and were amazed when they said that we could do so. There was no border post nor formalities and within a very short distance we were at a huge duty free outlet where some really good deals could be had. Niño even filled up with gas at a rate far cheaper than in Costa Rica. Apparently Ticos who live close to the border routinely cross into Panama to shop, even for groceries, and benefit from much lower prices. It was surprising to say the least that we could enter Panama without any checks at all - but we didn't get the stamp in our passport!
     I don't know whether I had spent too much time in the sun but by now I was developing a pretty crushing headache. We were back at our room by 17:00 and I took Tylenol and lay down with a cold cloth on my forehead. When Miriam got ready to go for dinner I elected to stay behind. I was glad that I did for my headache only slowly ameliorated and I doubt that I could have tackled food.
      Miriam reported that dinner consisted of chicken kabobs, chayote (pear squash), rice, black bean sauce and gravy, with mango for dessert. Wine was provided by Ruth Marie, in recognition of the presence of the friends of her and Charlie who were seated at their table, I suppose.
       It rained throughout dinner, Miriam said, and indeed I heard it pounding on the roof as I lay on the bed.
       Sleep came easily and when I awoke a little after midnight to use the bathroom my headache had already gone away.

All species 22 January: Black Vulture, Turkey Vulture, Swallow-tailed Kite, Black Hawk-Eagle, Double-toothed Kite, Roadside Hawk, Broad-winged Hawk, Band-tailed Pigeon, Short-billed Pigeon (H), White-tipped Dove, White-necked Jacobin, White-crested Coquette, Violet Sabrewing, Snowy-bellied Hummingbird, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Gartered Trogon, White-whiskered Puffbird, Fiery-billed Araçari (H), Chestnut-mandibled Toucan, Golden-naped Woodpecker, Red-crowned Woodpecker, Lineated Woodpecker (H), Yellow-headed Caracara, Bat Falcon, Orange-chinned Parakeet, Blue-headed Parrot, White-crowned Parrot, Sulphur-winged Parakeet, Spotted Woodcreeper, Streak-headed Woodcreeper, Torrent Tyrannulet, Paltry Tyrannulet, Great Kiskadee, Social Flycatcher, Grey-capped Flycatcher, Tropical Kingbird, Masked Tityra, Lesser Greenlet, Blue-and-white Swallow, House Wren, Rufous-breasted Wren, American Dipper, Clay-coloured Thrush, American Redstart, Golden-winged Warbler, Tropical Parula, Blackburnian Warbler, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, Slate-throated Whitestart, Cherie's Tanager, Blue-grey Tanager, Palm Tanager, Golden-hooded Tanager, Speckled Tanager, Bay-headed Tanager, Silver-throated Tanager, Green Honeycreeper, Variable Seedeater, Bananaquit, Buff-throated Saltator, Streaked Saltator, Black-striped Sparrow, Summer Tanager, White-winged Tanager, Red-crowned Ant Tanager, Red-throated Ant Tanager, Great-tailed Grackle, Crested Oropendola, Thick-billed Euphonia, Spot-crowned Euphonia, Lesser Goldfinch.

23 January 2016
Las Cruces Biological Station - Talari Mountain Lodge - Los Cusingos - Talari Mountain Lodge

     We were packed and ready to leave by 06:00 so we headed up to the deck to grab a coffee and have a final session with the birds at the feeders. When the bell clanged we went into the dining room for breakfast which comprised rice and beans, scrambled eggs, cake, papaya, watermelon, pineapple and juice.
     After dropping some money in the tip box and bidding farewell to the staff we were on our way by 07:20 under bright sunshine and a comfortable temperature. 



     At some point we stopped for a bathroom break and most of us tried the local ice cream which was quite delicious and very reasonably priced. There were a couple of Fork-tailed Flycatchers Tyrannus savana on the wire, the only time we would see this species on our trip.
     We stopped again for a lovely little Pearl Kite Gampsonyx swainsonii and were fortunate when it remained perched for a while permitting photographs. It almost seems impossible that so delicate a bird could be a raptor. It has the kind of cuteness that would have made my daughter want to take it home when she was a little girl!




     At 11:00 we arrived at Talari Mountain Lodge near San Gerardo de Rivas. We were assigned our rooms and after we had settled in we went up to the dining room where we could watch birds from a large deck. Bananas were strategically placed on trees and shrubs and the birding was active, with a variety of species.


Red-legged Honeycreeper
Blue-diademed Motmot

Variegated Squirrel

     Lunch, which was served at noon, was delicious. We had sea bass with an olive sauce, mashed potatoes and mixed vegetables (carrots, beans, cauliflower and broccoli). Dessert was a meringue topped with whipped cream and strawberries. I had a coffee but it was a little too hot for Miriam to have any kind of hot drink.
     We were at our leisure until 14:00 so, as you might imagine, Marg and Miriam headed for the pool. They both rhapsodized over it and said it felt so wonderful on a hot day. I had a little snooze and felt equally happy about what I did.
    At 14:00 we were ready to leave for Los Cusingos, but at the last minute Miriam decided to stay behind. Dick was not feeling well, so he and Gloria also elected to stay in their room. Our visit to Los Cusingos is adequately covered in a separate post: http://www.travelswithbirds.blogspot.ca/2016/01/dr-alexander-f-skutch-20-may-1904-12.html so I will not add anything further.
     We were back by 18:00 and headed to the dining room forty minutes later. As was the case at lunch time the food was first class, starting with carrot soup.
This was followed by barbecued chicken, nachos with both pico de gallo and black bean sauce, a baked potato with sour cream and a tortilla. Dessert was a mango mousse.
     We did the checklist and returned to our rooms, but I left again almost right away to go owling with Charlie and Niño. It didn't take us long to find a Bare-shanked Screech Owl Megascops clarkii, only my second sighting ever of this species, both times in Costa Rica. Mottled Owl Ciccaba virgata returned our calls but we could not lure it in close.
     We had bought a bottle of South African Liqueur called Amarula when we visited the duty free store in Panama, so Miriam and I sampled it before going to bed. Very pleasant it was too. We had turned off the lights by 22:00 and a blissful night's slumber followed.

Accommodation: Talari Mountain Lodge   Rating: Three stars

All species 23 January: Snowy Egret, Cattle Egret, Black Vulture, Turkey Vulture, Pearl Kite, Swallow-tailed Kite, Roadside Hawk, Broad-winged Hawk, Grey Hawk, Pale-vented Pigeon, Ruddy Ground Dove, Ruddy Quail-Dove, Smooth-billed Ani, Bare-shanked Screech Owl, Mottled Owl (H), Purple-crowned Fairy, Scaly-breasted Hummingbird, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Baird's Trogon (H), Gartered Trogon, Black-throated Trogon, Blue-diademed Motmot, Chestnut-mandibled Toucan, Red-crowned Woodpecker, Crested Caracara, Yellow-headed Caracara, Laughing Falcon, Blue-headed Parrot, White-crowned Parrot, Finsch's Parakeet, Chestnut-backed Antbird, Tawny-winged Woodcreeper, Northern Barred Woodcreeper (H), Cocoa Woodcreeper (H), Paltry Tyrannulet, Dusky-capped Flycatcher, Great Kiskadee, Boat-billed Flycatcher, Social Flycatcher, Tropical Kingbird, Fork-tailed Flycatcher, Turquoise Cotinga, Rufous Piha (H), Blue-crowned Manakin, Red-capped Manakin, Blue-and-White Swallow, Grey-breasted Martin, Rufous-breasted Wren (H), Riverside Wren (H), Clay-coloured Thrush, Tropical Mockingbird, Yellow Warbler, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Cherrie's Tanager, Blue-grey Tanager, Palm Tanager, Golden-hooded Tanager, Speckled Tanager, Silver-throated Tanager, Scarlet-thighed Dacnis, Blue Dacnis, Red-legged Honeycreeper, Green Honeycreeper, Variable Seedeater, Bananaquit, Buff-throated Saltator, Streaked Saltator, Great-tailed Grackle, Bronzed Cowbird, Thick-billed Euphonia, Spot-crowned Euphonia.

24 January 2016
Talari Mountain Lodge - El Toucanet Lodge, Copey de Dota

     We were awake early and went up to to the veranda at the dining room to join Charlie and Niño to have a coffee and do a little birding. It was also possible to connect to WIFI there so we checked the affairs of the world!
     Slowly, others started to arrive and soon everyone was present and we were served breakfast at 07:30. We started with a small dish of fresh fruit with a hint of granola and yogurt. This was followed by scrambled eggs, rice and beans and fried plantain.
     Right after breakfast Miriam and Marg, the mermaids of our group, went swimming. Gloria soon joined them at poolside; Ruth Marie and Jimmy were in the nearby gazebo and Nancy came to sit with them there. Dick, Graham and I were doing the right thing - we were off birding with Gomez and Morales! Even at that, Graham and Dick soon tired of the pursuit of our feathered friends and quit to return to their respective patios. I then had the untrammelled attention of two guides and two scopes!
     It was nice to see this male Rose-breasted Grosbeak and to know that soon it will be back with us in Ontario.



     Even though we all go to foreign destinations to see birds we cannot see at home there is nevertheless a special joy at seeing familiar species which have made the long migration south and will soon be returning to breed again at our latitudes. An old friend of mine used to say that any bird that bred in North America was a North American species - it didn't matter how long they spent elsewhere. For him breeding was the key to nationality!
     I was back at our room by 10:30 where Miriam, with bronzed skin, ruddy glow and healthy smile joined me.
     At 11:30 we were back on the veranda at the dining room where this female Cherrie's Tanager was one of the patrons at the bananas.



     Lunch was served at noon - lasagna with salad, and cooked bananas with ice cream for dessert. A delicious juice that accompanied the food was a blend of fruits from the grounds.
     We left shortly after lunch and travelled to the highlands to an area at about 3,500 metres. The original plan was to do some birding there but the weather was quite appalling and that idea was cancelled. We stopped at the park headquarters to let them know we had not birded there and it gave us a chance to use the washrooms. Obviously no one has control over the weather but it ruined our chances to see Volcano Junco, Timberline Wren and other high elevation species.
     As we went through the town near to El Toucanet Lodge we saw trees down and overhead wires on the ground. Crews were working and when we arrived at El Toucanet Lodge there was no power. However, it wasn't long before electricity was back on again.
     There were numerous hummingbird feeders at El Toucanet and the following pictures were taken there.


Female Scintillant Hummingbird


Rufous-tailed Hummingbird
    
     Graham had bought a bottle of gin in Panama and we had stopped in town to pick up tonic so we went to their room for a cocktail before dinner. We sat on their balcony where it was fairly cool and a little windy, but not unpleasant.
     Dinner was served at 19:00 and we started with a delicious squash soup, followed by trout, roasted potatoes, plantain and a couple of kinds of squash. Dessert was a blackberry mousse and blackberry juice was served with dinner. We also had a glass of red wine each, sold by the glass at El Toucanet. It was a great meal.
     We had taken the glasses from our room to Marg and Graham's for happy hour so I went back to retrieve them. They had a creamy liqueur there, Bailey's if I remember correctly, and they jumped on me and twisted my arm and made me have one before going back to Miriam! 
     When I got to our room she was already snuggled up in bed, serene, warm and cocooned in her blankets. It didn't take me long to get into bed too!

Accommodation: El Toucanet Lodge   Rating: Four stars

All species 24 January:  Grey-headed Chachalaca, Western Cattle Egret, Black Vulture, Turkey Vulture, Swallow-tailed Kite, Roadside Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, Spotted Sandpiper, White-tipped Dove, Tropical Screech Owl, Green Violetear, White-throated Mountaingem, Scintillant Hummingbird, Scaly-breasted Hummingbird, Violet Sabrewing, Steely-vented Hummingbird, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Blue-diademed Motmot, Fiery-billed Araçari, Red-crowned Woodpecker, Yellow-headed Caracara, White-crowned Parrot, Finsch's Parakeet, Barred Antshrike, Black-hooded Antshrike, Yellow-bellied Elaenia, Ochre-bellied Flycatcher, Paltry Tyrannulet, Common Tody-Flycatcher, Yellow-olive Flycatcher, Dark Pewee, Black Phoebe, Dusky-capped Flycatcher, Great Kiskadee, Social Flycatcher, Streaked Flycatcher, Piratic Flycatcher, Tropical Kingbird, Yellow-throated Vireo, Rufous-browed Peppershrike, Brown Jay, Long-tailed Silky Flycatcher, Riverside Wren, Tropical Gnatcatcher, Mountain Thrush, Clay-coloured Thrush, Black-and-White Warbler, Tennessee Warbler, American Redstart, American Yellow Warbler, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Cherrie's Tanager, Blue-grey Tanager, Palm Tanager, Golden-hooded Tanager, Speckled Tanager, Silver-throated Tanager, Scarlet-thighed Dacnis, Red-legged Honeycreeper, Green Honeycreeper, Buff-throate Saltator, Streaked Saltator, Summer Tanager, Flame-coloured Tanager, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Great-tailed Grackle, Bronzed Cowbird, Yellow-crowned Euphonia, Golden-browed Chlorophonia, Yellow-bellied Siskin.

25 January 2016
El Toucanet Lodge - Road to Providencia - El Toucanet Lodge

     I joined Charlie and Niño, as did Dick, for some early morning birding while Miriam just turned over in bed and said, "See you later!"
     As might be expected at first light the birds were very active and we saw a good variety of species. Our greatest coup, however, was a small covey of Spotted Wood Quail Odontophorus guttatus, a very difficult bird to see, although their loud call was heard each morning, much louder than any other song. They skulk in the densest, darkest undergrowth, but by patient and persistent searching we eventually found them and had really clear looks, especially at one bird that perched atop a rock so that we had a direct line of vision through a gap in the bushes. I suspect that it helped in no small measure that Charlie and Niño were well aware of locations they had found the bird on previous occasions.
     Coffee was easy to find growing along the roadside.



     We returned to the lodge a little before 07:00 and Miriam was in the dining room already so that she could access WIFI. Erin, Richard and the kids were also in Costa Rica, although in the north of the country, so it was part of our daily enjoyment to check on their progress.
     Breakfast started with a platter of fresh fruit, followed by the best rice and beans I have ever tasted and eggs made to order. Bread and a sort of moist cake were also on the table and cold juice was served. The quality of the food was excellent.
     We left on the vehicle at 08:15 and birded along the road. It did not take us long to find a female Resplendent Quetzal Pharommachrus mocinno and everyone was able to see the bird very well. Having already succeeded with the wood quail and the quetzal a good day's birding was already in the bag - and it was not yet ten o'clock in the morning!
     The account of our success with Resplendent Quetzal is amply covered in another entry: http:www.travelswithbirds.blogspot.ca/2016/02/resplendent-quetzal.html, so I will not go into more detail here.
     Huge flocks of White-collared Swifts Streptoprocne zonaris were wheeling around in the sky above us; this really is a very large swift.



     We had begun our search for Costa Rican Pygmy Owl Glaucidium costaricanum, when Charlie spotted a Tufted Flycatcher Mitrephanes phaeocercus, a little far off, but close enough for a reasonable photograph.
No sooner had I taken this picture the bird flew off. 



     Everyone returned to the vehicle, except Charlie, Niño, Miriam and me as we continued our quest to find Costa Rican Pygmy Owl. We could hear the bird, but spotting this tiny owl is not as easy as hearing it. Finally, far away, after a good deal of uphill climbing, we saw the bird. It was far off, but clearly visible as its bright rusty colouration showed up against a background of green foliage. In the scope we could see its whole body shuddering as it called repetitively.


      Flushed with this success, it was time to head back to the lodge for lunch. This had not been a bad morning of birding!     
View from El Toucanet Lodge
     Lunch was a fine affair. There was a juice which was a mixture of grapefruit, canteloupe and orange - very tasty indeed. We had shepherd's pie

with a topping of sweet potato and yucca. Dessert was a sweet little coconut cookie. 

     I went back to our room for my usual siesta but Miriam stayed in the dining room for a while so that she had access to WIFI.
     At 15:20 we headed out again, joined by only Jimmy who had missed this morning's activity because he was feeling a little sub par. As it turned out he picked the right part of the day for a pair of Resplendent Quetzals put on a show for us that was the stuff of bird lovers' dreams. As already mentioned this is well covered in another blog entry but I can't resist posting one more picture.


     We had a great afternoon of birding, including a great view of an Ochraceous Pewee Contopus ochraceus, a very difficult species to find.



     We stayed until well after dark searching for owls. We were successful in locating a Bare-shanked Screech Owl but even though a Mottled Owl was calling very close by we were unable to find it.
     We were back at the lodge just before dinner at 19:15 where we had cannelloni with a tossed salad and a caprese salad. Dessert was pears in a ginger sauce. We each had a glass of red wine and I had a coffee.
     As usual we did the checklist and we were back at our room a little after 20:30.

All species 25 January: Black Guan, Spotted Wood Quail, Western Cattle Egret, Black Vulture, Turkey Vulture, Red-tailed Hawk, Band-tailed Pigeon, Ruddy Pigeon,  Bare-shanked Screech Owl, Mottled Owl (H), Dusky Nightjar, White-collared Swift, Green Violetear, Magnificent Hummingbird, White-throated Mountaingem, Magenta-throated Woodstar, Volcano Hummingbird, Scintillant Hummingbird, Violet Sabrewing, Resplendent Quetzal, Collared Trogon, Acorn Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, White-crowned Parrot, Sulphur-winged Parakeet (H), Spot-crowned Woodcreeper, Buffy Tuftedcheek (H), Lineated Foliage-gleaner, Ruddy Treerunner, Mountain Elaenia, Olive-striped Flycatcher, Paltry Tyrannulet, Tufted Flycatcher, Dark Pewee, Ochraceous Pewee, Empidonax sp., Yellowish Flycatcher, Black-capped Flycatcher, Black Phoebe, Golden-bellied Flycatcher, Tropical Kingbird, Barred Becard, Yellow-winged Vireo, Brown-capped Vireo, Rufous-browed Peppershrike (H), House Wren, Ochraceous Wren, Grey-breasted Wood Wren, Black-faced Solitaire (H), Mountain Thrush, Clay-coloured Thrush, Golden-winged Warbler, Black-and-White Warbler, American Redstart, Flame-throated Warbler, Tennessee Warbler, MacGillivay's Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, Slate-throated Redstart, Collared Redstart, Blue-grey Tanager, Silver-throated Tanager, Yellow-thighed Finch, Common Bush Tanager, Sooty-capped Bush Tanager, Summer Tanager, White-winged Tanager, Baltimore Oriole.

26 January 2016
El Toucanet Lodge - La Esperanza - Paraiso de Quetzales - El Toucanet Lodge

      Breakfast was early today - 06:00. We started with a platter of fresh fruit, followed by eggs and rice and beans, fried cheese, and cinnamon raisin bread, and coffee.
      Marg reported that Graham had been sick all night and was still in poor shape so she would be staying behind with him for the day. Ruth Marie had cipro with her and she gave that to Marg so that Graham could get started on it right away. 
      We left at 07:00 and drove to meet Jorge, the owner of Paraiso Quetzal Lodge and rode downhill in his truck to an area where Resplendent Quetzals are usually found. The road was quite good but featured sharp turns, impossible for the bus to make. The women rode up front and the guys sat in the bed of the pickup.
      I am not sure whether Dick was entirely happy with this, but a grizzled veteran like him has probably experienced worse over his long life.


Dick Harding

     At the bottom we did indeed encounter quetzals (a piece of cake for us this trip!) and other interesting species. Jorge was a charming, friendly man - a pleasure to meet. He also had this engaging fellow working for him. I promptly named him Señor Machete in view of the weapon he was carrying. He proudly showed us a couple of quetzal tail feathers.




     We left that site and followed Jorge to his house where Acorn Woodpeckers Melanerpes formicivorus could be found. We also observed this Hairy Woodpecker Picoides villosus working away at a nest hole.
    

       Rufous-collared Sparrows Zonotrichia capensis were hopping around on the path. 



     This is a species that we had always found extremely common in the past on any trip to Central or South America, but we saw it relatively infrequently on this trip.
      The absolute anomaly was a Wilson's Warbler Cardellina pusilla feeding on bananas. We checked carefully with binoculars and it was clear that it was digging out chunks of banana and not feeding on insects attracted to the fruit.
       At 09:00 we drove to Paraiso Quetzal Lodge and went outside on a deck to watch the incredible activity at the hummingbird feeders. Charlie ordered coffee or hot chocolate for us all; I had the hot chocolate and it was creamy and delicious, especially when taken with hummingbirds all around.
      It was a simple matter to have the hummingbirds alight on your finger. If you placed a finger parallel to the feeding port the birds would have no hesitation in perching there to feed. It's a wonderful experience. The birds are so light that, apart from the slightest hint of a scratch from their feet, you would never know the bird had alighted. Most species weigh less than a dime.
       I will have to go though many of my pictures later with all the reference books I have. Some of the hummingbirds are difficult to identify - and I am reasonably familiar with most species. The level of iridescence changes so much with the angle of the light, that birds with vivid colouration can appear almost uniformly black.
      Here is one shot to demonstrate the the frenetic activity at the feeders and a couple of images of birds whose identity I am sure of.



Magnificent Hummingbird Eugenes fulgens

Fiery-throated Hummingbird Panterpe insignis (at right)
     After watching the feeders for a while we went for a walk with Jorge's son, a very personable and knowledgeable young man, who knew the birds of the area and where to find them very well. All the women but Miriam stayed back on the deck, so there were just four of us with three guides and three scopes - not a bad ratio I would say! 
      One of the birds we tried hard to find on our last visit to Costa Rica was Wrenthrush Zeldonia coronata, without success. This species is a bit of a conundrum in many ways. It has at times been classified as a wren, at other times as a thrush, hence its name, but is now generally accepted by taxonomists to be an aberrant warbler. Jorge's son knew where to find this skulker and he delivered it in short order. First of all we got little glimpses here and there of part of the body; finally it popped into view and we saw the whole bird. Great job!
     The next "special" bird he delivered was Black-and-yellow Silky Flycatcher Phainoptila melanoxantha. This family contains only four members; I have now seen three of them. They are not especially well-named for they feed on fruit more than insects and their behaviour more closely mirrors that of waxwings. Perhaps they are due for a taxonomic update!
     The third lifer I got at this location was Barred Parakeet Bolborhynchus lineola. Fairly large flocks of them were flying around but as soon as they landed, more than other species of parrot even, they disappeared into the foliage. At one point we thought we had pinned down the tree where they were and were watching it, waiting for a glimpse. Suddenly they exploded from a different tree right above us and not one of us had seen them there. I think that when the eagle eyes of Niño Morales fail to pick them out it's time to concede defeat!
     We returned to the hummingbird extravaganza at 11:30 and were asked to make a choice for lunch - chicken, pork chop or trout. Miriam and I both opted for chicken and when it was served at noon it was delicious, accompanied by rice and beans, plantain, a vegetable salsa and a salad. It was all washed down with a very agreeable blackberry juice. Dessert was ice cream, strawberries and coffee.
     We had a little time still to watch the hummingbirds and were on our way by 13:00, having spent a very pleasant and highly productive morning.
     We stopped in Santa Maria on the way back to El Toucanet Lodge. Santa Maria is the hub of a coffee processing area and Charlie wanted to pick up coffee there. A few of the others joined him in making a purchase. Miriam and I waited outside the supermarket watching the street life and saw this White-winged Dove Zenaida asiatica on the utility wires.



      It was not far to our lodge and we were back by 14:30. Marg came to visit bearing the last of their gin and tonic since Graham was still quite sick and was not about to drink and she didn't want to carry it to the next destination. I was already relaxing on the deck so why not relax with a gin and tonic said I - and that is what I did!
       I left to go birding with Charlie and Niño at 16:00 and we birded the grounds of the lodge and ventured a little way along the road. This female Collared Trogon Trogon collaris was perched no more than 10 metres away as we walked along the road.



     Around 18:30 we went to the lounge adjacent to the dining room, got ourselves a glass of wine, and chatted to the others as they arrived. A fire was lit for us and when everyone was assembled, wearing the quetzal tee shirts Ruth Marie had presented to us, a group photo was taken.
      We then had a wonderful dinner. Whole roasted chickens were carved at the table. There was stuffing, mashed potatoes, rice, plantain and squash, carrot salad, beet salad and tortillas. Three sauces accompanied all this - a hot sauce, a blackberry sauce and a barbecue sauce. There was iced tea with ginger and lime to drink, a delicious combination indeed. Did someone think it was Thanksgiving? We didn't make a note of what we had for dessert but I am sure it was equally tasty.
      Graham made it down for the group photo and stayed to eat a miniscule dinner. He was far from well, however, but Marg assured us he was much better than earlier in the day and cipro and electrolytes seemed to be doing the job.
      We did the checklist and returned to our room soon after 20:00. It had been a great day.

All species 26 January: Spotted Wood Quail, Cattle Egret, Black Vulture, Turkey Vulture, Broad-winged Hawk, White-winged Dove, Green Violetear, Plain-capped Starthroat, Magnificent Hummingbird, Fiery-throated Hummingbird, Magenta-throated Woodstar, Scintillant Hummingbird, Volcano Hummingbird, Violet Sabrewing, Steely-vented Hummingbird, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Resplendent Quetzal, Collared Trogon, Acorn Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, Barred Parakeet, Spot-crowned Woodcreeper, Buffy Tuftedcheek, Ruddy Treerunner, Mountain Elaenia, Paltry Tyrannulet, Dark Pewee, Ochraceous Pewee, Empidonax sp., Black Phoebe, Golden-bellied Flycatcher, Tropical Kingbird, Yellow-winged Vireo, Rufous-browed Peppershrike (H), Silvery-throated Jay (H), Long-tailed Silky Flycatcher, Black-and-Yellow Silky Flycatcher, House Wren, Grey-breasted Wood Wren, Orange-billed Nightingale-Thrush, Ruddy-capped Nightingale-Thrush, Mountain Thrush, Clay-coloured Thrush, Golden-winged Warbler, American Redstart, Tennessee Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, Wilson's Warbler, Slate-throated Whitestart, Collared Whitestart, Wrenthrush, Blue-grey Tanager, Spangle-cheeked Tanager, Large-footed Finch, Rufous-collared Sparrow, Common Bush Tanager, Sooty-capped Bush Tanager, Flame-coloured Tanager, Great-tailed Grackle, Baltimore Oriole.

27 January 2016
El Toucanet Lodge - Casec Pond - Rancho Naturalista

     Breakfast was at 07:00 and we started, as usual, with a plate of delicious fruit. A platter of pancakes and jam followed but I passed on this, pancakes not being my favourite food. I had a fried egg with rice and beans and delicious little sausages. I should repeat that if you enjoy rice and beans, as I do, those served here are the best I have ever had. It goes without saying that we had coffee. Graham was present and ate lightly; he certainly looked measurably better than he had the night before.
     Just before leaving an Emerald Toucanet Aulacorhynchus prasinus came to one of the feeders, a fitting visitor at El Toucanet Lodge. It was a lovely bird indeed.



     By 07:30 we were on our way. The early morning temperature had been a mere 8°C at first light and it was starting to warm up; the sky was clear with bright sunshine.
     We stopped at Casec Pond to search for waterfowl. Blue-winged Teal Anas discors was the most common species, followed by Lesser Scaup Aythya affinis. There was some discussion with a local birder about a vagrant Greater Scaup Aytha marila that allegedly had been seen there, but Miriam and I scanned the entire flock and we could find only lessers. A Spotted Sandpiper was the only sandpiper we saw, as well as the only Killdeer of the entire trip.
      We went through the City of Cartago and stopped for a bathroom break, following which we drove through the small town of Canada. 
      It was not far to Rancho Naturalista and we arrived there at 11:40. Our rooms were assigned and our luggage brought to us. Having made sure that we had everything we should have, we went straight to the dining room for lunch at 12:00. We started with a large, and I mean large, bowl of beef minestrone soup with focaccia bread which was very tasty indeed. This was followed by a pasta salad, also delicious. For dessert there was a variety of squares and brownies with slices of watermelon. The juice was a mixture of different fruits and we had a coffee also.
      We went back to our room to relax for a while and rejoined the group on the balcony at 14:30 where we watched hummingbirds for a while. There was a nice range of species, including White-necked Jacobin Florisuga mellivora.




     The diminutive Snowcap Microchera albocoronata was present  but seldom was still for a moment. I was unable to get a picture (well at least anything worth saving) and another guest there kindly permitted me to use this picture that she had taken, having spent most of the afternoon to do so. Unfortunately, I did not get her name so I cannot ascribe credit to her.


   
      At around 16:00 we descended a steep trail down to a series of natural pools where hummingbirds, and other species too, came to bathe. It was really quite remarkable and I very much enjoyed my time there. A Kentucky Warbler Geothlypis formosa was one of the species that put in an appearance, and because it was bent on bathing it did not fly away as quickly as is usually the case, enabling a protracted study of the bird. The same was true of a Tawny-throated Leaftosser Sclerurus mexicanus.
      When it started to get dark and we couldn't see the birds without the aid of a flashlight we left and went back to our room. 
      Shortly after we left go for dinner, taking with us a bottle of wine we had bought in San Vito, having first cleared it with the management. They served wine but were very willing to let us open our own bottle. It was impressive that consumption of their wine and beer was on an honour system. You simply took what you needed and recorded your name and room number on a sheet of paper. It is always encouraging to see this level of confidence in the basic honesty of people staying there. It reinforced my already high evaluation of Rancho Naturalista.
      Dinner consisted of a superb Moroccan chicken dish with rice and a lemon sauce, a variety of vegetables and a tossed salad. Dessert was a tres leches cake. It was all mouth-wateringly delicious. I remember the taste of the chicken so well I could salivate just thinking about it.
     We did our check list and retired for the night, Graham looking ever more robust at each appearance. It was good to see him getting back on his feet.

Accommodations: Rancho Naturalista   Rating: Five Stars

All species 27 January: Mallard/American Black Duck hybrid, Blue-winged Teal, Lesser Scaup, Spotted Wood Quail (H), Great Egret, Cattle Egret, Black Vulture, Turkey Vulture, Grey Hawk, Killdeer, Spotted Sandpiper, Rock Pigeon, Red-billed Pigeon, White-necked Jacobin, Green Hermit, Brown Violetear, Green Violetear, Purple-crowned Fairy, Green-breasted Mango, Green Thorntail, Black-crested Coquette, Snowcap, Magnificent Hummingbird, Scintillant Hummingbird, Violet Sabrewing, Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer, Crowned Woodnymph, Stripe-tailed Hummingbird, Steely-vented Hummingbird, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Green Kingfisher, Emerald Toucanet, Barred Parakeet, Tawny-throated Leaftosser, Mountain Elaenia, Yellowish Flycatcher, Black Phoebe, Great Kiskadee, Boat-billed Flycatcher, Grey-capped Flycatcher, Tropical Kingbird, Lesser Greenlet, Rufous-browed Peppershrike, Brown Jay, Blue-and-White Swallow, Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Scaly-breasted Wren (H), House Wren, White-breasted Wood Wren, Clay-coloured Thrush, Tropical Mockingbird, Tennessee Warbler, Kentucky Warbler, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Golden-crowned Warbler, Wilson's Warbler, Slate-throated Whitestart, Collared Whitestart, White-lined Tanager, Blue-grey Tanager, Scarlet-thighed Dacnis, Green Honeycreeper, Bananaquit, Common Bush Tanager, Summer Tanager, Flame-coloured Tanager, White-winged Tanager, Great-tailed Grackle, Baltimore Oriole, Chestnut-headed Oropendola, Montezuma Oropendola, White-vented Euphonia. 

28 January 2016
Rancho Naturalista Bajo - Lamina - Rancho Naturalista Bajo
   
     We joined Charlie and Niño on the balcony at 05:00 to get a coffee and wait for daylight at the hummingbird feeders. Soon we were joined by the rest of the group, other than for Ruth Marie, Gloria and Nancy. At 05:45 we trooped off to an area behind our cabin where there is a sheet with a light to attract moths. Birds are drawn to this fast food station and come in for an easy breakfast.... in theory, that is, but this morning the light wasn't working!
     Nevertheless a number of species was seen there, no doubt some of the birds being regular patrons, coming at the same time each morning in anticipation of an easy, high quality meal. We birded around the building for a while and then went for breakfast at 07:00.
     The table was loaded with fresh canteloupe, a plate of eggs, toast, jam, pancakes with fruit topping, some small, spicy meat patties (which rapidly became my favourite) and rice and beans. There was also a dish of clotted cream, presumably to layer on top of the fruit on top of the pancakes, but I declined that particular delicacy. Rice and beans, eggs and meat patties were all I needed. We didn't record what Miriam had, but I suspect it involved fruit and the pancakes.
     By 08:00 we were on the bus for the steep drive down the hill to the house of John and Kathy, the two Americans who had started Rancho Naturalista. John is now a very virile eighty-five years old. He swears that moving to Costa Rica added fifteen years to his life.
     Birds were plentiful and the variety pleasing. I was able to get my only picture of Brown Jay there.



     At a fair distance from the house four Keel-billed Toucans were perched in the same tree and others were close by. It was like a toucan convention.



     Graham was looking much better this morning, quite like his old self. His colour had returned and he was out birding with us.



     We had previously seen Masked Tityra Tityra semifasciata at a couple of other locations, but this morning offered the best chance for a photograph.



     After a couple of hours we headed back up the hill and most of the group dispersed. Only Jimmy accompanied Charlie, Niño and me in birding the trails in the forest.
     I joined Miriam on the balcony at 11:45 and right away noticed a Crested Guan Penelope purpurascens in one of the trees opposite. I was not in a good position to take a picture, but Graham and Marg, who were staying in the main building had a balcony that was directly across from the bird. So I went up to their balcony and was able to get this shot of a bird that is quite spectacular in my opinion.



     Lunch comprised spare ribs in a barbecue sauce, corn on the cob, french fries and tossed salad. It was all very good. For dessert there was an oatmeal/chocolate chip cookie and a thin slice of cake. No one could exactly determine the flavour of the cake but the consensus was that it was delicious.
     At 14:30 we left to go to a river where our quest for Sunbittern Eurypyga helias began. Graham stayed behind so as not to overdo it, but Marg came along. This bird has an air of mystery about it. It is in a monotypic genus within a family of only three species, all of which are secretive and hard to find. The only other chance I have had at a member of this family was for African Finfoot in South Africa and I was never successful in seeing that bird.
     After about a half hour of searching someone spotted a bird quite far away and it was indeed a Sunbittern. This species is generally solitary and forages alone and the bird in front of us followed that pattern to a tee. Little is known of the diet of Sunbittern and we couldn't add anything to the store of knowledge, except to say that it stalked and stabbed and appeared to take mainly insects. I say "appeared to" because I was never able to ascertain what organisms it captured. I looked as closely as I could to see whether it captured any small vertebrate prey but as far as I could tell it did not.
      In a trip where I saw some wonderful birds, including several much anticipated lifers, I think this was the cherry atop the sundae. It will probably be the only member of the family that I will ever see and the greatest thrill in birding for me is to see a representative of a family I have never met up with before.
     We kept thinking the bird would flush, but it stayed with us, and we were able to get ever closer. Based on the time of my first picture and the time of my last picture we watched it for over thirty minutes, but I am sure that it was longer because the first image was not taken at the very moment the bird was sighted, nor was the last image created the instant it left. Rounding it up to forty-five minutes does not seem unreasonable to me. A remarkable encounter, I think, by any standards.





     When we arrived back at the vehicle which was parked next to a kind of lagoon Grey-necked Wood Rails Aramides cajaneus were present, clearly anticlimactic after the exhilaration of the Sunbittern.



      We were back at our room by 17:30, just enough time to get ready for dinner at 18:00. We had roast beef in a mushroom and onion gravy, mashed potatoes,  broccoli and carrots, and a tossed salad. It was all prepared to perfection but unfortunately barely warm. I guess the food had been in the serving platters for a while before it was brought to the table. We are not quite sure how to describe dessert but it was chocolate on top of chocolate with a chocolate sauce on top of that, and was decadent and delicious beyond belief. A coffee complimented it perfectly.  
        A light rain was falling as we made our way back to our room around 19:45. We read for a while and turned in early, I with visions of Sunbittern still dancing in my head. 

All species 28 January: Grey-headed Chachalaca, Crested Guan, Snowy Egret, Western Cattle Egret, Green Heron, Black Vulture, Turkey Vulture, White-tailed Kite, Roadside hawk, Broad-winged Hawk, Sunbittern, Grey-necked Wood Rail, Spotted Sandpiper, Band-tailed Pigeon, White-necked Jacobin, Green Hermit, Stripe-throated Hermit, Green Violetear, Green-breasted Mango, Plain-capped Starthroat, Black-breasted Coquette, Snowcap, Garden Emerald, Violet Sabrewing, Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer, Crowned Woodnymph, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Gartered Trogon, Green Kingfisher, Gartered Trogon, Green Kingfisher, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Collared Araçari, Keel-billed Toucan, Chestnut-mandibled Toucan, Black-cheeked Woodpecker, Laughing Falcon (H), White-crowned Parrot, Finsch's Parakeet, Plain Antvireo, Checker-throated Antwren, Slaty Antwren, Olivaceous Woodcreeper, Plain Brown Woodcreeper, Wedge-billed Woodcreeper, Cocoa Woodcreeper, Streak-headed Woodcreeper, Plain Xenops, Buff-throated Foliage-gleaner, Torrent Tyrannulet, Ochre-bellied Flycatcher, Slaty-capped Flycatcher, Paltry Tyrannulet, Scale-crested Pygmy-Tyrant, Common Tody-Flycatcher (H), Black-headed Tody Flycatcher, Tawny-chested Flycatcher, Empidonax sp., Bright-rumped Attila (H), Dusky-capped Flycatcher, Tropical Kingbird, Masked Tityra, Tawny-crowned Greenlet, Brown Jay, Blue-and-White Swallow, Scaly-breasted Wren (H), House Wren, Black-throated Wren, Stripe-breasted Wren (H), White-breasted Wood Wren, Long-billed Gnatwren, Clay-coloured Thrush, Worm-eating Warbler, Golden-winged Warbler, Black-and white Warbler, Tennessee Warbler,  Kentucky Warbler, Tropical Parula, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Golden-crowned Warbler, Passerini's Tanager, Blue-grey Tanager, Golden-hooded Tanager, Scarlet-thighed Dacnis, Green Honeycreeper, Variable Seedeater, Bananaquit, Orange-billed Sparrow, Rufous-collared Sparrow, Summer Tanager, Red-throated Ant Tanager, Melodious Blackbird, Great-tailed Grackle, Montezuma Oropendola, Crested Oropendola, OLive-backed Euphonia, White-vented Euphonis, Tawny-capped Euphonia. 

29 January 2016
Rancho Naturalista - Lankester Gardens - Bougainvillea Hotel

     I was present at the blanket with the light, set up to attract moths, before daybreak, and unlike yesterday morning the light was glowing brightly and there was an abundance of insects. Dick joined me there and a short time later Charlie and Niño showed up; Jimmy too. Perhaps Ruth Marie also joined us later, I am not sure.
     The birds came out in numbers to feast on the moths - Red-throated Ant-Tanager Habia fuscicauda, White-breasted Wood Wren Henicorhina leucosticta, Plain-brown Woodcreeper Dendrocincla fuliginosa and Cocoa Woodcreeper Xiphorhynchus susurrans being the most frequent, but there was also a Bright-rumped Attila Attila spadiceus and a Kentucky Warbler that would sneak out from the foliage, grab a moth, withdraw to eat it, and repeat the same performance. Other birds came and went also. It was easy birding indeed!
     Although the lamp created an abundance of light it was impossible to take photographs - everything came up a sickly green.
     I joined Miriam who had gone down to the deck to get a coffee and we went in for breakfast at 07:00. There was juice, watermelon slices, rice and beans, scrambled eggs, wonderful spicy beef patties and toast and jam. 
     We took our bags down to the vehicle to be loaded and enjoyed the feeders on the balcony until 08:45 when it was time to leave.
     Our stop this morning was at Lankester Gardens in Cartago. This is an important botanical centre now operated by the University of Costa Rica. We spent a pleasant hour and a half there, leaving at 12:30.


       The City of Cartago was at one time almost destroyed by lava flow when one of the active volcanoes erupted and the shell of the cathedral has been left for all to see. The city hosts a large pilgrimage each year.


       Now it was time to find somewhere for lunch.  Charlie chose a local restaurant quite close to where he lives in San José and a fine choice it was. It was a typical Tico eatery and we all ate well there - too well in fact, a good deal of the food was wasted. There was guacamole and nachos for the table, patacones for the table, bowls of soup like rain barrels, enchiladas as big as crescent moons, salads that represented the annual output of a garden....too much! Miriam had an iced tea which she said was REALLY sweet and I had watermelon juice which was perfect.
      I think that by the time we left the restaurant we had all developed a refined Costa Rican waddle!
      When we arrived at that oasis of tranquility and refinement called the Hotel Bougainvillea, Miriam and Marg elected almost immediately to go for a swim, their final dip in Costa Rica. Needless to say they both found the experience refreshing, relaxing and worthy of exuberant praise. Miriam was back at our room by 16:45.
       We met at 18:00 in Nancy's room to do our final checklist since Nancy had a sofa. There was a bottle of red and a bottle of white wine provided by Costa Rica expeditions and we all enjoyed reminiscing a little. 
       For the farewell dinner we were joined by Charlie's wife, Vicki. Miriam and I both had Cesar salad, then pork tenderloin with a passion fruit sauce. I ordered a bottle of red wine to share with Graham and Marg and a glass of white wine for Charlie. I passed on dessert but Miriam had ice cream with chocolate sauce.
      We bid farewell to Charlie, Niño and Vicki about 21:00 and returned to our room. Charlie and Niño had but two short days at home to look forward to before embarking on their next tour. 

Accommodation: Hotel Bougainvillea   Rating: Five stars

All species 29 January: Grey-headed Chachalaca, Crested Guan, Cattle Egret, Black Vulture, Turkey Vulture, Rock Pigeon, Red-billed Pigeon, White-winged Dove, White-necked Jacobin, Green Hermit, Stripe-throated Hermit, Green-breasted Mango, Black-crested Coquette, Violet Sabrewing, Crowned Woodnymph, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Rufous Motmot (H), Crested Caracara, Finsch's Parakeet, Tawny-throated Leaftosser (H), Plain-brown Woodcreeper, Cocoa Woodcreeper, Buff-throated Foliage Gleaner, Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, Yellowish Flycatcher, Black Phoebe, Bright-rumped Attila, Dusky-capped Flycatcher, Tropical Kingbird, Brown Jay, Blue-and-white Swallow, Scaly-breasted Wren (H), House Wren, Black-throated Wren (H), White-breasted Wood Wren, Clay-coloured Thrush, Kentucky Warbler, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Golden-crowned Warbler, Blue-grey Tanager, Orange-billed Sparrow, Rufous-collared Sparrow, Summer Tanager, Red-throated Ant Tanager, Great-tailed Grackle, Montezuma Oropendola, White-vented Euphonia, House Sparrow.

30 January 2016
Hotel Bougainvillea - Juan Santamaria Airport - Pearson International Airport - Waterloo

     We made a coffee in our room and then went out to enjoy a stroll through the gardens.
     Marg and Graham joined us for breakfast  at 07:30 and we all availed ourselves of food from the buffet. Miriam had fruit, fried plantains and a cinnamon roll, while I had fruit, rice and beans, sausage and a muffin.
     We were back in our room by 08:15 so we sat on the balcony for a while and then decided to go and sit in the garden for one last time and bid farewell to the birds.
     Our driver showed up a little earlier than was scheduled and we were on our way to the airport by 10:30. Traffic was less crazy than normal, being the weekend, but it was still congested. It was about a half hour trip to the terminal.
     It was too early to check in so we found a place to sit and decided to have a sandwich at lunch time, since the fare on the plane would no doubt be limited in selection and abysmal in quality. Two chicken wraps and two coffees cost $27.00!
     We finally were able to check in and settled in for the long wait until scheduled departure at 15:00. Lift off was at 15:35 and we landed in Toronto at 21:30 EST. We went through immigration and customs without delay, retrieved our bags and were speedily delivered to the Quality Inn where Graham's car was parked.
     The weather was clear and we had an uneventful drive home with no delays. Graham dropped us at the door at 23:45.

All species 30 January: Turkey Vulture, Red-billed Pigeon, White-winged Dove, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Hoffman's Woodpecker, Finsch's Parakeet, Vireo sp., Brown Jay, Blue-and-White Swallow, Clay-coloured Thrush, Blue-grey Tanager, Golden-hooded Tanager.

General Comments

     Costa Rica provided us with fabulous birding opportunities and we enjoyed every other aspect of the country too. It is a diverse and interesting country to visit and we had the chance to explore more than one of its avian habitats. The fact that Marg and Graham came along with us enhanced our experience immeasurably. I will shortly be creating a spread sheet of all the sightings I had and my lifers for the trip. If anyone would like a copy please let me know.

Acknowledgements

     As usual Ruth Marie Lyons and Charlie developed a fine itinerary and we were happy to visit new areas in Costa Rica. There was no duplication at all from our last visit, other than the Hotel Bougainvillea - and who would want to start and end the journey anywhere else but there?

Costa Rica Expeditions

     This company sets a very high standard and follows through all the way. Their pick ups are impeccable and on time, schedules are maintained and everyone is well taken care of. I would highly recommend them to any other traveller.

Our Guides

     The team of Charlie Gomez and Niño Morales is unsurpassed. They are so familiar with each other and so at ease working together it is a joy to be with them, and their combined skills ensure that if a bird can be found it will be. After twenty-five years together they are like two pockets in the same pair of pants. Aside from their birding skills they are both a pleasure to be around, interesting, engaging and with a fine sense of humour.