Saturday, March 05, 2011

Costa Rica 31 January - 15 February 2011

30 January 2011

Waterloo – Atlanta – San José – Santo Domingo de Heredia

John and Karen arrived at around 11:15 to drive us to Pearson International Airport. By 11:30 we had loaded our luggage into the car and were on our way. We had a smooth drive to the airport, proceeded quickly through US Customs and Immigration and were at our gate by 13:30.

Since meals would not be served on the flight, we bought a couple of sandwiches, a turkey club, and a corned beef, and we each had half of each sandwich, along with a bottle of water.

Our flight was scheduled for departure at 15:38 but was showing as 16:08 when we printed our boarding pass, and 16:35 at the boarding lounge. We were concerned since we had barely an hour to make our connection in Atlanta, and departure an hour late would obviously make this impossible. We checked at the podium to see whether there was any alternative way to get us to Atlanta, but were advised that nothing was available. By now we resigned ourselves to not making our connection, especially since the flight had been pushed back yet again to 17:00.

We had been told that the aircraft was coming in from Detroit but mechanical difficulties delayed its departure. Something must have happened, however, because we were then advised that the plane was in the air and it arrived at 16:00h. We boarded almost immediately and taxied out to the runway after a short delay. We were airborne by 16:40 and the pilot advised that he thought he could make up much of the lost time. There was at least a glimmer of hope that we could make our connection.

Touchdown in Atlanta was made at 18:25 and we had a mad dash from one end of the terminal to the other where we just made the final boarding call. We were in our seats by 19:00 and finally departed for San José at 19:40.

After a smooth flight we touched down at Juan Santamaría International Airport at 22:15 local time. Clearance through Costa Rican Immigration was swift and we went to collect our bags. When I heard my name paged I knew something was amiss and we were advised that one of our suitcases had not made the flight. However, they assured us that it would be on a flight at 13:00 the next day and that they would deliver it to our hotel. It was not a major inconvenience since we always travel with a change of clothes in our carry on baggage precisely to handle this kind of occurrence.

As soon as we went through the doors into the public area we were met by a representative from Costa Rica Expeditions and were escorted to a vehicle ready to take us to our hotel. We mentioned that we were missing a bag and told our transfer agent that it would be delivered the next day. Here is when we received our first inkling of the sheer excellence of Costa Rica Expeditions. The agent opined that while Delta Airlines no doubt had full intentions of delivering the bag, it would not be the first time that an airline agent told a passengers what he wanted to hear. He insisted that a CRE representative would return to the airport the next day to get our suitcase. When we arrived at the Bougainvillea Hotel he asked the desk clerk to make copies of our passports, baggage tag and an authorization form so that they could have the bag released to them. We were happy that this kind of take-charge attitude would doubtless ensure that we would receive our missing luggage.

The room at the hotel was quite delightful, spacious, modern, immaculate and very comfortable. We made a cup of tea and relaxed for a while before turning in for the night.

Accommodation: Bougainvillea Hotel Rating: Five Stars.

31 January 2011

Bouganvillea Hotel, Santo Domingo de Heredia

We were awake early and by first light were out on the balcony of our room which overlooked the wonderful gardens of the Bougainvillea Hotel, hot coffee in hand.

What a wonderful sight, filled with colour and blooms of every size and description, with bird life to boot. We were quickly able to identify Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, which was quite common, and a Squirrel Cuckoo was out in the open on a tree almost directly across from us. There were Red-billed Pigeons, Baltimore Orioles aplenty and a Tropical Gnatcatcher right in front of us. We really enjoyed seeing a couple of Rufous-collared Sparrows feeding on the grass and a flock of Finsch's Parakeets flew overhead.

Soon after 07:00 we decided to go down for breakfast. There was a nice variety of fresh fruit on offer which we both sampled. Miriam then had a croissant and ham and cheese, I chose rice and beans (Costa Rica's national dish) with scrambled eggs. The coffee was bold and tasty, flavours we would encounter throughout Costa Rica.

We returned to our room to collect our binoculars and headed out into the gardens. It was quite wonderful to walk around the paths in bright sunshine with a pleasant breeze. The bird life was really quite remarkable. We saw a Hoffmann's Woodpecker, a lifer, and Blue-and-White Swallows zoomed everywhere. A Brown Jay's raucous call drew our attention to it and this bird was a lifer for Miriam. Clay-coloured Thrushes were very common indeed. We watched a Common Ground Dove returning to the same citrus tree repeatedly; it appeared to be carrying food, but when we examined the tree from beneath we were unable to locate a nest.

At about 10:00 we returned to our room and made a cup of tea which we took out onto the balcony. After a while we returned to the garden again and sat in the gazebo enjoying the tranquil beauty all around. The avian activity had slowed somewhat in the heat of the day but it was very pleasant to be outside.

At 12:15 we went to the dining room for lunch where we each ordered the menu of the day. This comprised a legume and chicken salad, followed by grilled fish with potato wedges roasted with onion, and shredded cabbage and carrots sauteed together. A very tasty flan served as dessert; it was drizzled with fruit sauce and topped with a dollop of cream and a fresh red flower petal. It was all quite delicious, but I am sure we ate as much for lunch as we would eat in an entire day at home!

After eating we returned to our room to relax on the balcony. At about 14:15 we received a call from Charlie Gomez, our guide, to say that he was on the way to the hotel, quite close in fact, with Miriam's missing suitcase, and Jimmy and Ruth Marie Lyons, and Jack and Mary Dodge, our friends and travelling companions for the trip.

We went down to the lobby to greet them and were delighted to see a large, comfortable van which would be our transportation for the trip. It looked pretty new, was spotless and had a Costa Rica Expeditions sign on the side. We had met Charlie in Ecuador and now he introduced us to Niño, our driver. From the first encounter one liked Niño and in truth he turned out to be far more than a driver during our birding excursions; he is in his own right a superb guide with incredible hearing and an ability to spot a bird that verges on the uncanny. His nickname, Eagle Eyes, is well deserved.

Miriam was happy to have her suitcase and we went back to our room. Miriam read on the balcony while I took a nap. At about 16:30 we decided to perambulate in the grounds again and we ran into the others who were doing the same thing.

At 17:30 we met with everyone in a meeting room in the hotel and Charlie explained every facet of our trip to us, aided by a large map of Costa Rica. What a wonderfully professional way to begin a trip.

Miriam had made gifts for everyone and I was the designated presenter. Everyone seemed delighted.

It was time for dinner and we all went to the dining room. We had cream of asparagus soup, I then chose sea bass and Miriam beef tenderloin, both served with broccoli and yucca. There were baskets of wonderful garlic bread on the table. Dessert was a coconut flan and we each had a coffee. The entire meal was quite delicious.

We bade goodnight to Charlie and Niño who were going home for the night, and repaired to our rooms to get ready for our first full day of the trip. We had bought some post cards earlier so I wrote them, ready to hand in at the front desk in the morning.

We were in bed by about 21:30, looking forward to the adventures ahead.

All species 31 January – Turkey Vulture, Black Vulture, White-tailed Kite, Red-billed Pigeon, White-winged Dove, Common Ground Dove, Finsch's Parakeet, Squirrel Cuckoo, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Steely-vented Hummingbird, Blue diademed Motmot, Hoffmann's Woodpecker, Great Kiskadee, Tropical Kingbird, Yellow-throated Vireo, Yellow-green Vireo, Brown Jay, Blue-and-White Swallow, Tropical Gnatcatcher, Clay-coloured Thrush, American Yellow Warbler, Baltimore Oriole, Great-tailed Grackle, Rufous-collared Sparrow, Blue-grey Tanager, Greyish Saltator.

1 February 2011

Bougainvillea Hotel – Charlie Gomez' house – Irazu Volcano – Savegre River Valley Road – Savegre Mountain Lodge.

I had forgotten to change the alarm clock to Costa Rica time so it awoke us an hour earlier than needed. Miriam went back to sleep without any trouble.

We showered, made coffee and sat on the balcony enjoying the birds. At 06:30 we went down for breakfast where we met the others. Miriam had fruit and scrambled eggs while I had fruit with rice and beans. As was the case yesterday, the coffee was great. Charlie and Niño arrived but they had eaten before coming to the hotel.

By 07:30 we were on the van and ready to leave. The van was so spacious that we were all able to have our own seat without anyone at our side, and there was individual air conditioning control at each seat. The vehicle was absolutely spotless with floor mats to keep it that way. It was cloudy, with sun peeking through here and there as Niño set off through very heavy traffic. Progress was slow but Niño negotiated the congestion with a steady hand showing the skill and aplomb he would employ at every stage of our journey.

Before long some of the women were in need of a bathroom stop, so Charlie said that since we were not far from his home we would stop there. He lives in a lovely, pleasant house, with multiple bathrooms, and it was very agreeable to be able to visit a Costa Rican home. As might be expected there were bird feeders which were being patronized by Clay-coloured Thrushes and a Great Kiskadee.

By 08:50 we were back in the van and heading out of the greater San José area. Traffic started to ease somewhat and soon we were passing through tracts of agricultural land under cultivation with various kinds of vegetables.

We stopped at a wild avocado tree in hopes of locating Resplendent Quetzal, but came up empty. There were other exciting birds, however, including Volcano Hummingbird, Fiery-throated Hummingbird, Black-capped Flycatcher and Mountain Elaenia.

A stop at the Volcan Irazu Parque Nacional produced a Volcano Junco and other species. My altimeter was registering 3,102 m at this point, and comparing it with Charlie's altimeter, there was about a 3% variance. We walked up to the rim of the volcano where the winds were ferocious and it was cold, windy and socked in with fog. A little patience was worthwhile, however, for after a while the fog dissipated and we had spectacular views.

We left the park around 12:30 and stopped for lunch shortly afterwards at a restaurant called Noche Buena, at 2,720 m. It was quite lovely, with logs blazing in the fireplace, emanating warmth and good cheer. A friendly Black-billed Nightingale-Thrush was hopping up and down the steps outside, searching for food in every nook and cranny.

Charlie ordered a plate of patacones for everyone to share and Miriam chose a tortilla soup which was accompanied by three little dishes containing cheese, avocado and tortilla chips. She smacked her lips at the first spoonful and enjoyed it very much indeed. I selected chicken fajitas and it was served piping hot on a cast iron skillet. The aromas crept up my nose and awakened my taste buds. It was quite splendid. I chose a glass of fruit juice, which seemed to be a blend of berries, and it was very good. Miriam had a coffee.

After lunch I wandered outside and Charlie told me to keep an eye on the trees since there was an abundance of fruit and we were in quetzal country. No sooner had he entrusted me with this responsibility and returned to the restaurant, than two incredible males, calling loudly, flew from the uppermost reaches of a tree to a lower part. Niño, who was at the other end of the parking lot, saw them at the same time, and we both hoofed it back to the others to urge them to come and see. This gave a whole new meaning to “eat and run!”

I am not sure whether we added a third quetzal, (and I am inclined to believe that we did), but at the opposite end of the grove where the first two were located was a male in full view. It moved around a bit but we kept it in the scope most of the time and everyone was able to get his/her heart wound up by looking at this truly magnificent bird. It is a masterpiece of form and grace and colour. I have no difficulty understanding why its feathers were reserved only for the high priests of the Mayan civilization. I always feel privileged when I see a new bird, and the smallest, ignominious LBJ has its own appeal, but to say that this one was not captivatingly special would be to deny the truth. Some birds are cute, some are lovely, some are enigmatic in indescribable ways, but this one is majestic, regal, and in a stratospheric eminence of its own. It is a Zen moment in my life that I shall never forget, nor will time diminish the memory.

Miriam said that we ate well and the quetzal was dessert. If this bird is dessert it is Baked Alaska, Cherries Jubilee and Peach Flan all rolled into one!

It is probably a good thing that the bird finally flew away, or I think I might still be there at the side of a mountain road in the highlands of Costa Rica, enraptured and rooted in place.

By 14:00 Niño had us back on the highway again. At 15:15 we stopped to fuel the van and we all checked out the little store that was at the service centre. Mary bought some biscochos, a snack unfamiliar to me, but remembered by Mary from her last visit to Costa Rica. She enjoyed these so much and bought them so often that Charlie called her a biscochoholic!

We turned onto the Savegre River Road and soon afterwards stopped to search for Spotted Wood Quail in an area where Charlie and Niño had seen them before. Charlie played his tape and before long the call was being returned. By peering down into little clearings in the dense undergrowth we all were able to see these birds. We had great looks at a couple walking back and forth but the piece de resistance was a single bird that stayed in one place and vocalized all the time we had it in the scope. A wonderful lifer and a difficult bird to see. We had brief looks at Long-tailed Silky-Flycatcher, but all I saw was a hint of the tail here, a crest there, but never a complete bird. Fortunately, later in the trip we would feast our eyes on the whole bird to our heart's content.

We arrived at Savegre Mountain Lodge at 17:30 and were struck by its beauty. Our cabin was lovely. It was equipped with two beds that seemed to be intermediate in size between a double and a queen, a fireplace, with logs and matches provided, a small table with two comfortable chairs, and a spacious, well-equipped bathroom. We knew that we would be comfortable there for our three-night stay.

We had planned to meet at the bar to do our checklist at 18:00 but it was a little noisy so we moved outside where it was quieter.

We then took dinner in the dining room, which featured a well-stocked buffet with a great variety of scrumptious options. I had vegetable soup, a selection from the salad bar, and from the hot table a little trout, a little chicken, rice and vegetables. Miriam had pretty much the same thing, but she passed on the soup. We both had a glass of Malbec Merlot with our dinner. There was a multitude of items for dessert and we chose hot bananas in syrup.

I finished with a coffee, but since they didn't have decaf Miriam decided not to.

We were back in our room around 19:30 and chatted for a while about how well everything had gone so far, and how totally satisfied we had been.

We were tired and before 21:00 we were in bed. I am sure that ten seconds later we were asleep.

Accommodation: Savegre Mountain Lodge Rating: Five stars.

All species 1 February - Spotted Wood Quail, Western Cattle Egret, Turkey Vulture, Black Vulture, Red-tailed Hawk, American Kestrel, Common Pigeon, Red-billed Pigeon, White-winged Dove, Inca Dove, Finsch's Parakeet, Green Violetear, Fiery-throated Hummingbird, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Steely-vented Hummingbird, White-throated Mountaingem, Magnificent Hummingbird, Volcano Hummingbird, Resplendent Quetzal, Lineated Woodpecker, Mountain Elaenia, Paltry Tyrannulet, Black-capped Flycatcher, Great Kiskadee, Tropical Kingbird, Brown Jay, Long-tailed Silky-Flycatcher, Blue-and-White Swallow, Black-billed Nightingale-Thrush, Sooty Thrush, Clay-coloured Thrush, Yellow-bellied Siskin, Black-throated Green Warbler, Townsend's Warbler, Black-and-White Warbler, Wilson's Warbler, Montezuma Oropendola (H), Baltimore Oriole, Great-tailed Grackle, Rufous-collared Sparrow, Volcano Junco, Large-footed Finch (H), Blue-grey Tanager, Slaty Flowerpiercer, Sooty-capped Bush Tanager, Flame-coloured Tanager, Greyish Saltator.

2 February 2011

Savegre Mountain Lodge – Los Robles Trail – Mirian's Place -La Quebrada Trail

After coffee in our room, we met the rest of the gang at 06:15 to bird around the grounds of the lodge. The birding was very productive and along the river we spotted a Louisiana Waterthrush, a nemesis bird for so many years. I had never been able to find it in North America so I added my lifer in Costa Rica!

Other species seen on our walk included Collared Whitestart, a bird which would become one of our favourites of the trip, many Sooty-capped Bush Tanagers, Mountain Thrush, Yellow-bellied Siskin, and a multitude of approachable Volcano Hummingbirds and White-throated Mountain Gems at the feeders.

We drifted into the dining room between 07:30 and 08:00 where a great breakfast buffet awaited us, with fruit, yoghurt, cereals and various hot items.

After a quick visit to our rooms, we were taken to the top of Los Robles in four wheel drive vehicles which are necessary to handle the steep incline and the rock-strewn slopes. After a short time Charlie located an endemic Costa Rican Pygmy Owl for us, sitting on a branch in clear view. What a delight! We were able to get this bird in the scope and everyone had terrific looks at it. It's whole body vibrated as it called repeatedly. We knew how fortunate we were when every other birder we met reported not being able to find it. But then again, they weren't birding with Charlie and Niño! In short order we saw many other species, but the prize was a couple of Silvery-throated Jays. Charlie and Niño worked valiantly to find this species for us and as quickly as they would locate one it would fly off again to settle behind dense foliage. Finally, we were all able to get a decent look at this uncommon species, which eludes many energetic searchers.

Jack unfortunately fell on the trail and had a hard time getting back to his feet. Charlie accompanied Jack, Mary, Jimmy and Ruth Marie on a shorter part of the trail while Miriam and I continued downslope with Niño. On the way we saw two hummingbird nests, one of Scintillant Hummingbird with two tiny babies, which we saw by reflecting their image into a mirror held above the nest.

It was a long walk back to the lodge and finally it became too much for everyone but Miriam and me. When Charlie rejoined us with Jack, who was now walking with the aid of a stick picked up on the trail, and the others, a vehicle came to pick them up, while we walked the rest of the way down with Charlie and Niño. It was a beautiful day, sunny and not too hot. We enjoyed the walk.

After going to our room briefly to wash up we went to the dining room to meet everyone for lunch. Again there was a delicious buffet. We chose a few items from the salad bar. I then had trout and Miriam tried a steak which she pronounced “tough but tasty,” all accompanied by plantain roasted in a sweet sauce, and potato croquettes. There was an array of dessert items but we chose slices of watermelon and pineapple. A good Costa Rican coffee made a perfect ending.

We returned to our room at 14:15 to catch up on our list and for Miriam to bring her journal up to date, and relaxed before going back out at 15:15.

Jack and Mary opted to stay behind but the rest of us embarked on the van for a trip to a little restaurant call “Mirian's Place.” On the way we saw scores and scores of birders along the road searching for Resplendent Quetzal. We didn't hear of a single sighting, so we felt smug about our good fortune yesterday. Charlie mentioned that had we not seen the bird when we stopped for lunch, we would have been part of that mass of people all searching for the elusive target. Richard Garrigues, the author of my field guide, was the leader of one group. I wanted to get my book signed, but Charlie felt it was inappropriate to bother him while he was working.

Mirian's Place is sometimes patronized by Charlie for lunch and he knows the owner quite well. There is a deck out behind the restaurant with feeders and good habitat, so we birded there for a while, having great close-up views of Yellow-thighed Finch and and Large-footed Finch.

We then went on to La Quebrada Trail where we planned to stay out until dark for Bare-shanked Screech Owl. We were successful in our quest, having extended views of this species. We also heard Dusky Nightjars but were unable to see any of them.

Actually, we tried again for the nightjar on the way back to Savegre but we realized that it was the end of a very long day when Charlie mistook the eye reflection of a horse for a Dusky Nightjar!

Arriving back at the lodge at 19:30 we headed in for dinner right away. We were very happy to see Jack looking hale and hearty again. Miriam and I both had a very tasty bowl of soup, noodles in a beef broth. We then chose from a selection of fish, chicken, stuffed tomato halves, rice and pasta. A glass of Merlot tasted great with our dinner. For dessert we enjoyed hot stewed bananas.

We did our checklist after dinner, but Miriam decided to go back to the room instead to do a little laundry.

It was around 21:00 when we turned out the light, tired but well satisfied with a great day of birding.

All species 2 February – Turkey Vulture, Black Vulture, Red-tailed Hawk, Ruddy Pigeon, Bare-shanked Screech Owl, Costa Rican Pygmy Owl, Dusky Nightjar (H), White-collared Swift, Green Violetear, White-throated Mountainge, Magnificent Hummingbird, Volcan Hummingbird, Scintillant Hummingbird, Orange-bellied Trogon (often considered a subspecies of Collared Trogon), Acorn Woodpecker, hairy Woodpecker, Ruddy Treerunner, Buffy Tuftedcheek, Spot-crowned Woodcreeper, Silvery-fronted Tapaculo (H), Northern Tufted Flycatcher, Dark Pewee, Yellowish Flycatcher, Black-capped Flycatcher, Tropical Kingbird, Brown-capped Vireo, Silvery-throated Jay, Blue-and-White Swallow, Grey-breasted Wood Wren, Black-billed Nightingale-Thrush, Ruddy-capped Nightingale-Thrush, Mountain Thrush, Clay-coloured Thrush, Yellow-bellied Siskin, Flame-throated Warbler, Louisiana Waterthrush, Wilson's Warbler, Collared Whitestart, Black-cheeked Warbler, Rufous-collared Sparrow, Large-footed Finch, Yellow-thighed Finch, Silver-throated Tanager, Spangle-cheeked Tanager, Sooty-capped Bush Tanager, Flame-coloured Tanager.

3 February 2011

Savegre Mountain Lodge – Provencia Road (Dota) – Quetzales National Park – Savegre Mountain Lodge

Our alarm was set for 05:30 to enable us to do a little birding around the grounds before breakfast at 06:30. As usual Charlie and Niño were already out and about and soon we were joined by Ruth Marie. A flock of Band-tailed Pigeons flew overhead and we had great pleasure checking the hummingbird feeders and honing our identification skills.

Breakfast was a fine affair with a great variety of hot and cold items. We ate fruit and yoghurt, with juice, and wonderful coffee.

After breakfast we chatted to a young fellow from Toronto and helped him to identify the hummingbirds at the feeders. He was also quite entranced with a close up look at a Yellow-thighed Finch.

At 07:30 we left for higher altitudes and on the way passed several groups of birders all still hunting for the elusive Resplendent Quetzal. Thank goodness we did not need to join that throng.

A stop along the Provencia Road was marked by an exuberance of bird life and we were constantly redirecting our binoculars as one or the other of us called out a species. The highlight for Miriam and me was a tree top bedecked with Long-tailed Silky-flycatchers. Finally all of the parts came together in a masterpiece of form and design. We also had a great look at Rufous-browed Peppershrike and Yellow-winged Vireo.

We entered the Quetzales N.P. at 08:45 and birded along the road in a light mist. We would walk for a while and then Niño would move the van along, so it was easy going. There were many species to be seen, the highlights being a brief glimpse of a Silvery-fronted Tapaculo (as good as it gets with tapaculos) and a clear look at Timberline Wren, a species endemic to Costa Rica and western Panama.

We left the park at 11:50 and headed back to the lodge, arriving at 12:40. After a quick visit to our room to wash up we joined everyone for lunch at 13:00. Miriam and I both partook of asparagus soup, Miriam patronized the salad bar but I skipped it today; we then both had a small piece of trout, a small wedge of pork with fried rice and vegetables. Miriam couldn't resist a coconut square and some fruit from the dessert table. Wow! I have never seen her eat so much! We both finished with a couple of cups of coffee.

Charlie said that we would meet again at 15:30, so we relaxed until then, spending some of the time sitting on the bench in front of our room where we could admire the flowers and the butterflies, and watch the people coming and going, all in between the constant excitement of revelling in the sheer beauty of the hummingbirds. A couple of Rufous-collared Sparrows, oh so common but oh so delightful, amused us with their antics on the lawn.

When we left to go birding, Jack and Mary decided to stay behind. We first climbed up the hillside to some orchards where we located Sulphur-winged Parakeet. There were good numbers of the bird and we had no difficulty in getting a couple in the scope for everyone to enjoy. Later on, as we moved down to the river's edge, we added a Torrent Tyrannulet flycatching from a rock. We also espied a new hummingbird, Stripe-tailed Hummingbird, with great views of a male feeding.

Ruth Marie and Jimmy decided to head back to their room early and somewhere along the way Niño had already left us, so Miriam and I passed a very enjoyable hour or so walking with Charlie. From a birding point of view, we hunted for Black-faced Solitaire, which was calling frequently, but we were unable to locate it visually. We chatted about many things and Charlie proved to be great company.

We were back at our room by 17:45 and promised to meet everyone at 18:15 to do the daily list.

For dinner we both had an interesting and tasty fish ball soup. Then we sampled the salad bar and followed up with trout (Miriam), chicken wings (David), mixed veggies, and pasta with a creamy mushroom sauce. As usual it was all quite delicious and our plates were clean at the end. We each had a glass of Argentinian Merlot with our dinner, and Miriam couldn't resist three-milk cake and ice cream. I think it's a good thing we do lots of walking each day!

We returned to our room at 19:30 and chatted about the day. We showered, read for a while and were asleep before 21:00.

All species 3 February - Black Vulture, Turkey Vulture, Red-tailed Hawk, Band-tailed Pigeon, Sulphur-winged Parakeet, Costa Rican Pygmy Owl (H), White-collared Swift, Green Violetear, Fiery-throated Hummingbird, Stripe-tailed Hummingbird, White-throated Mountaingem, Magnificent Hummingbird, Volcano Hummingbird, Scintillant Hummingbird, Acorn Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, Ruddy Treerunner, Buffy Tuftedcheek, Spot-crowned Woodcreeper, Silvery-fronted Tapaculo, Torrent Tyrannulet, Paltry Tyrannulet, Dark Pewee (H), Boat-billed Flycatcher, Tropical Kingbird, Rufous-browed Peppershrike, Yellow-winged Vireo, Brown-capped Vireo, Long-tailed Silky-flycatcher, Blue-and-White Swallow, Timberline Wren, Black-faced Solitaire (H), Sooty Thrush, Mountain Thrush, Clay-coloured Thrush, Flame-throated Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, Wilson's Warbler, Collared Whitestart, Rufous-collared Sparrow, Yellow-thighed Finch, Blue-grey Tanager, Spangle-cheeked Tanager, Slaty Flowerpiercer, Sooty-capped Bush Tanager, Flame-coloured Tanager.

4 February 2011

Savegre Mountain Lodge – Mirian's Place – El Tapir – La Quinta de Sarapiqui – Tirimbina

We were up at 05:30 to meet Charlie and Niño at 06:00 to bird around the lodge and along the river. No one else showed up this morning so Miriam and I each had a private guide with a scope.

Our principal target was the Black-faced Solitaire, but even though we heard it again, we could not get it to show itself. Adequate compensation was provided by a Dusky Pewee that perched on a snag for an extended period.

Breakfast was taken at 06:30. We started with fruit and yoghurt, followed by rice and beans, a fried egg, plantain and a ham and cheese tortilla, with coffee of course. And to think that we have only a bowl of cereal at home!

We returned to our room to finish packing and left Savegre Mountain Lodge for the last time at 07:15, beneath sunny, blue skies and perfect temperatures. We certainly enjoyed our stay there.

Once again there were hordes of quetzal seekers decorating the hillsides and Niño had to manoeuvre around a few large buses parked at the side of winding roads. Soon, however, we were on the highway, and en route to new adventures.

We made a quick stop at Mirian's Place so that Charlie could pay her some money, and birded off the rear balcony again. Nothing new was seen but we had stellar views of a Black-capped Flycatcher. As we left someone rushed onto the bus with a bag of homemade rolls for us to enjoy en route. They were like a cross between cake and bread and were mouth-wateringly good.

By 08:00 we were on the open road heading for San José. We may not have known the way to San José, but Niño certainly did!

The highway towards the Caribbean coast took ten years to build, using three different contractors. It was finally completed with government intervention. Braulio Carrillo National Park was created to protect the region from the inevitable influx of people after the completion of the highway.

The cost of maintenance of the highway is very high, due to the frequency of landslides and the elevated incidence of accidents. In fact at 10:20 we ground to a halt due to a collision ahead, and at least seven ambulances went past us in the opposite direction. We started to move again, albeit slowly, and at 10:55 passed the remnants of a still smouldering, burned out tractor trailer.

At around 11:15 we stopped at El Tapir, a small garden with a maintenance station, where the birding was quite good. The star of this stop was the tiny Snowcap, a hummingbird we had searched for twice in Panama and failed to find. It hovered around the flowers, feeding hither and yon, for several minutes and we were really able to enjoy it. The humidity of the Caribbean slope was really noticeable now.

It was about 12:30 when we arrived at La Quinta de Sarapiqui, our home for the next two nights, where we were greeted with wet cloths and a glass of cold lemonade. This is a family owned business which in just ten years has been transformed from a working farm to a garden of secluded cabins, lodging and a galería connected with paved trails and covered walkways, and ponds and gardens of remarkable beauty.

We checked into our room, where the electricity was out, but were assured that service would be resumed later in the afternoon. At 13:00 we went for lunch where Miriam chose a chicken burrito and I selected a chicken sandwich. Neither one was exceptional.

The delight of our lunch was to have a Wood Thrush of all things walking among the tables.

After relaxing for a while we departed at 14:30 for the short drive to Tirimbina Rain Forest Centre to experience the process of making organic chocolate. Our guide, Jorge, was an engaging fellow and very familiar with the natural history of Tirimbina. He was adept at pointing out birds along the way, even as we crossed a 300m suspension bridge over a deep forest gorge.

Aided by Francisco, Jorge provided an entertaining and informative demonstration of the traditional method of producing chocolate. We got to taste it at various stages in the production and were amazed at its transformation from bean to the rich, dark chocolate familiar to us all. At the end Jorge gave us all some “money that grows on trees,” i.e. a small bag of coca beans, which we could either keep or “spend” on postcards he had brought along for the price of five beans per card. Miriam bought three postcards with her beans, I kept mine.

On the way back out from the demonstration area, Charlie heard a Uniform Crake and did his best to lure it out of the swampy area near the path, but without success. This bird is vocal, but especially difficult to see, and today was no exception.

We returned to La Quinta by 18:00 and turned on the air conditioning in our room, the power having been restored. At 18:30 we went to the dining room to do our list.

Dinner, at 19:00 was excellent. We started with a bowl of very good creamed vegetable soup and a selection of items from the salad bar. Hot coals were on the barbecue and there was a selection of steak, pork sausage and chicken drumsticks, mixed vegetables, heart of palm which we ate wrapped in a soft tortilla, baked beans and home made plantain chips. I had a glass of wine and Miriam opted for sour guava juice.

A little before 20:00 we were back in our room to shower and get ready for the morning.

Accommodation: La Quinta de Sarapiqui Rating: 4 stars

All species 4 February – Little Tinamou (H), Western Cattle Egret, Great Blue Heron, Lesser yellow-headed Vulture, Black Vulture, Laughing Falcon (H), Uniform Crake (H), Common Pigeon, Red-billed Pigeon, White-collared Swift, Costa Rican Swift, Green Violetear, Vioelt-headed Hummingbird, Green Thorntail, Stripe-tailed Hummingbird, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Snowcap, White-throated Mountaingem, Magnificent Hummingbird, Volcano Hummingbird, Scintillant Hummingbird, Black-throated Trogon, Collared Aracari, Keel-billed Toucan (H), Acorn Woodpecker, Black-cheeked Woodpecker, Streak-headed Woodcreeper, Yellow Tyrannulet, Paltry Tyrannulet, Common Tody-Flycatcher, Black Phoebe, Dark Pewee, Black-capped Flycatcher, Boat-billed Flycatcher (H), Tropical Kingbird, White-collared Manakin, Masked Tityra, Blue-and-White Swallow, Bay Wren (H), Southern House Wren(H), Grey-breasted Wood Wren (H), Black-faced Solitaire (H), Wood Thrush, Sooty Thrush, Mountain Thrush, Clay-coloured Thrush, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Wilson's Warbler, Montezuma Oropendola, Great-tailed Grackle, Bananaquit, Rufous-collared Sparrow, Orange-billed Sparrow, Large-footed Finch, Yellow-thighed Finch, Passerini's Tanager, Blue-grey Tanager, Palm Tanager, Golden-hooded Tanager, Slaty Flowerpiercer, Variable Seedeater, Common Bush Tanager, Sooty-capped Bush Tanager, Flame-coloured Tanager, Summer Tanager, Red-throated Ant Tanager, Buff-throated Saltator.

5 February 2011

La Quinta de Sarapiqui – La Selva

I was very much looking forward to our visit to La Selva, the renowned centre for tropical studies, so when the alarm jangled at 04:20 I was eager to get up.

Breakfast was at 05:00 and both Miriam and I opted for a plate of fruit. I also had a glass of juice and we both had coffee.

We could hear a Spectacled Owl calling and it was not long before Charlie had located a pair for us. What a stunning creature! And what a great start to the day.

By 05:50 we were on our way to La Selva with light rain falling. The rain was a little more persistent when we arrived so we all sat in the van for a while. When we elected to get out, Jack, Mary and Ruth Marie decided they would prefer to return to La Quinta, so Niño drove them back while Charlie, Jimmy, Miriam and I opened our umbrellas and set off birding. Charlie was aware that a pair of Great Green Macaws was said to be nesting in the area, and he was anxious to locate the nest since he had never previously encountered a breeding pair of this uncommon species. A local fellow told us where we could find the nest tree and we set off down a dirt road in search of it. We located what we thought to be the tree and following Charlie's instructions we all examined it from every angle possible to try to pinpoint the nesting cavity. Charlie was sure that we had found the right tree and there seemed to be a suitable hole, but after a considerable wait we failed to spot either member of the pair.

By this time Niño had returned from La Quinta and, lo and behold, Ruth Marie was with him. She had second thoughts about missing out on a visit to La Selva, especially since it had not been part of her itinerary on any previous visit to Costa Rica.

We filled out the necessary waiver forms at the office and, accompanied by our guide, Rodolfo, began a tour. The rain stopped, but Miriam had left her camera behind due to the inclement weather when we started out, so we missed some great picture opportunities of amphibians, mammals and birds. Rodolfo was a great guide and the tour was simply fascinating. The highlights from a birding standpoint were prolonged looks at a Great Tinamou, the first time ever, even though we had heard them many times, and to our utter amazement a pair of Great Curassows perched in a tree. In reality, this was a bird of my dreams, little did I think I would get such an amazing opportunity to see them so well.

On the way back out of La Selva we were treated to the astonishing sight of a Brown-throated Three-toed Sloth crossing the road. At a sloth-like pace, its fur harbouring an active growth of vegetation and fungi, the creature shambled along, carefully negotiated a barbed wire fence without getting snagged, and meandered on.

We were notching memorable experience after memorable experience and were very happy indeed.

Unable to resist the temptation to check out the possible macaw nest site one more time, we headed back along the dirt road to the tree. We waited a while and Charlie heard one calling and we watched a bird fly by. Still calling it headed for the forest and within minutes the head of a second bird emerged from what Charlie had accurately identified earlier as the nest cavity. It flew off to join the first bird and before long, as befits the royalty that they are, they did a sort of fly past, and then landed together in a tree where they fed on fruit, enabling us to set up the scope for unexcelled views. Then to complete the performance they both took off and flew directly to the nest tree. Now they were even closer. After perching together for a few moments, one of them entered the cavity and the other flew out of sight.

What a magnificent way to end what had already been a never-to-be-forgotten morning.

We were back at La Quinta for lunch at 13:10. Miriam and I both ordered fish and chips, but were not blown away by it. After lunch we all went to watch the feeders for a while, but the rain forced us back under cover. The stars at the feeders were the stunning male Passerini's Tanagers.

At 15:30 Miriam and I left with Charlie and Niño to go back to La Selva. Once again we would effectively have our own private guides. When we parked and got out of the van, the mosquitos were fierce, but the birding was too good to let that bother us. Our main target was Green Shrike-Vireo and Niño with his amazing ears and eyes pinpointed this little green bird in green foliage high atop a tree and had it in the scope for us. There were lots of other birds to charm us and Charlie decided that since we were close to a river we would wait until dusk to see whether Short-tailed Nighthawks would fly. We were not disappointed as several birds wheeled overhead gathering insects. As we were driving out of La Selva we saw several Parauques.

We arrived at La Quinta at around 18:30, went to our room to collect our checklist, and joined the others to do the list.

Dinner followed with a first class barbecue similar to last night. We didn't plan to have dessert but a Dutch gentleman was celebrating his birthday and he was presented with a cake which he shared with us. We all had a small piece and he still had lots left to offer at other tables.

We were back in our room by 20:30 and Miriam washed out a few clothes. We talked about the remarkable day we had shared and were asleep before 22:00.

All species 5 February – Great Tinamou, Grey-headed Chachalaca, Crested Guan, Great Curassow, Muscovy Duck, Green Ibis (H), Western Cattle Egret, Turkey Vulture, Black Vulture, Grey-headed Kite, Semiplumbeous Hawk, Grey-lined Hawk, Laughing Falcon, Pale-vented Pigeon, Short-billed Pigeon, Ruddy Ground Dove, White-tipped Dove, Great Green Macaw, Olive-throated Parakeet, Orange-cheeked Parakeet, Brown-hooded Parrot, White-crowned Parrot, Red-lored Amazon, Mealy Amazon, Squirrel Cuckoo, Spectacled Owl, Short-tailed Nighthawk, Pauraque, White-collared Swift, Grey-rumped Swift, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer, Slaty-tailed Trogon, Gartered Trogon, American Pygmy Kingfisher, Keel-billed Motmot, Broad-billed Motmot, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Collared Aracari, Keel-billed Toucan, Chestnut-mandibled Toucan, Black-cheeked Woodpecker, Rufous-winged Woodpecker, Lineated Woodpecker, Northern Barred Woodcreeper, Cocoa Woodcreeper, Streak-headed Woodcreeper, Great Antshrike, Barred Antshrike, Yellow Tyrannulet, Paltry Tyrannulet, Yellow-olive Flatbill, Tropical Pewee, Long-tailed Tyrant, Social Flycatcher, Grey-capped Flycatcher, Great Kiskadee, Tropical Kingbird, Dusky-capped Flycatcher, Bright-rumped Attila, Snowy Cotinga, Masked Tityra, Green Shrike-Vireo, Yellow-throated Vireo, Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Southern Rough-winged Swallow, White-breasted Wood Wren, Tropical Gnatcatcher, Grey Catibird, Wood Thrush, Clay-coloured Thrush, Olive-backed Euphonia, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Chestnut-headed Oropendola, Montezuma Oropendola, Shiny Cowbird, Melodious Blackbird, Great-tailed Grackle, Bananaquit, Crimson-collared Tanager, Passerini's Tanager, Blue-grey Tanager, Palm Tanager, Plain-coloured Tanager, Golden-hooded Tanager, Blue dacnis, Green Honeycreeper, Variable Seedeater, Summer Tanager, Red-throated Ant Tanager, Black-thighed Grosbeak, Slate-coloured Grosbeak, Buff-throated Saltator.

6 February 2011

La Quinta de Sarapiqui – Road to Caño Negro – Boat ride on the Río Frío

Just before 06:00 we joined everyone else for a quick coffee before birding around the grounds of La Quinta. There was a variety of tanagers and finches, and we noted a Black-cheeked Woodpecker at a nest hole in a snag.

Breakfast at 07:00 was a buffet selection including lots of fruit, fried eggs, tiny delicious sausages and rice and beans. Bread was also available for those who wished to make toast.

We returned to our room to finish packing and by 07:45 we were on the road again.

The journey towards Caño Negro took us through vast tracts of agricultural land where the crops included sugar cane, pineapples, starfruit, oranges and beans. Due to high costs of production in Hawaii, Costa Rica has become the world's primary producer of pineapples.

At one point Ruth Marie inveigled Charlie into stopping and we all dashed to a bridge overlooking a river where the trees were festooned with iguanas of every size and colour. It was an amazing sight. Charlie was not particularly happy at our standing on the bridge which was pretty much overflowing with people, and some of the traffic came precariously close. I am sure he breathed a sigh of relief when we all got back in the van.

At almost 10:30 we turned onto a dirt road. We stopped to bird wherever a bird warranted it, so we made frequent stops! At one location there was a small stream, with soggy fields and an amazing aggregation of caimans, turtles, many species of heron, including our life Bare-faced Tiger Heron, and Northern Jacanas,(also a lifer) everywhere one looked. There were both adults and young and since we always find jacanas uniquely appealing with their big feet and habit of raising their wings for balance when teetering across lily pads, it was very agreeable for us to see so many. We had three scopes out so everyone was able to have close up views of any bird they chose. It was a wonderful stop under bright, sunny skies with an open horizon stretching in front of us.

A little farther along the road, Niño suddenly stopped and backed up. Even while driving (and he is a very careful driver) he had spotted a Great Potoo roosting in a tree. By now we accepted his moniker “Eagle Eyes” as an established fact, but this surely was his tour de force. The bird is camouflaged so well, it takes a moment to spot it even when it is pointed out, and he had located it while driving. We had amazing scope views and watched the bird perform a variety of antics, all the while looking every bit a dead branch on the tree. This was another lifer for Miriam and me, and if I am not mistaken for everyone else too. Bravo Niño, y muchas gracias!

At 12:30 we arrived at the resort at Caño Negro. Overall the place was very nice but the pillows on our beds were a little lumpy and the light bulbs were very dim. We went for lunch almost immediately, Miriam having changed into shorts, and enjoyed a cold beer which was very welcome indeed. Lunch was excellent. There was a small salad bar, then the main buffet had tilapia, tuna/macaroni salad, rice, squash and spiced ground beef. We were served a dish of ice cream for dessert.

Charlie had mentioned to us that today marked the 25th anniversary of his first day as a birding guide, so Mary and I tried to organize a cake to be served with dinner tonight. “No problem” we were told, “What do you want on it?”, “Don't worry, It'll be there.”

Mary said, “That seems a little too easy.” And it was. The cake never appeared at dinner.

We went back to our room to relax for a while and Miriam decided to try out the swimming pool. I went along with her to make sure that she didn't drown.

At 15:15 we all boarded the van for the short drive to the Río Frío to take our boat ride through this paradise of birds. Our boatman, Ernesto, had a real knack for spotting birds, even without binoculars, and he was both personable and helpful. There were scores of Roseate Spoonbills, many herons and egrets, Anhingas, Neotropic Cormorants and more, but the main attraction for me was a Sungrebe, swimming methodically, close to the river bank. The trip began under a light rain shower, but since the boat was covered it didn't present a problem for us.

We stayed on the lagoon until dusk until the Lesser Nighthawks started to fly and on the way back to the dock saw a tree already laden with roosting herons, egrets and ibises slowly transformed from dark to white as every available perch was taken by the new arrivals.

When we got back to the dock, as a fitting end to a remarkably enjoyable excursion, a Grey-breasted Wood Rail strutted along the river bank.

We arrived back at the lodge at 18:10 and arranged to meet in the bar at 18:45 to do the list. Miriam and I both asked for a glass of wine but were informed that they had no wine at all, so we had a gin and tonic instead which was delectable and refreshing.

Dinner consisted of rice, black beans, squash, pork, pasta in tomato sauce and chicken breast, all available at the buffet. Dessert was ice cream with cooked pineapple.

Returning to our room a little before 20:00, we soon heard a knock on the door. Charlie announced that he was going to search for Black-and-White Owl, knowing full well that we couldn't possibly resist trying for an owl. But, we struck out, even though Charlie had produced the owl at this location on previous trips.

Back to our room for a hot shower and sweet dreams.

Accommodation: Caño Negro Resort Rating: Four Stars.

All species 6 February – Black-bellied Whistling Duck, Blue-winged Teal, Wood Stork, American White Ibis, Glossy Ibis, Roseate Spoonbill, Bare-throated Tiger Heron, Boat-billed Heron, Black-crowned Night Heron, Green Heron, Western Cattle Egret, Great Blue Heron, Western Great Egret, Tricoloured Heron, Little Blue Heron, Snowy Egret, Neotropic Cormorant, Anhinga, Turkey Vulture, Black Vulture, Western Osprey, White-tailed Kite, Roadside Hawk, Short-tailed Hawk, Northern Crested Caracara, Laughing Falcon, Bat Falcon, Peregrine Falcon, Sungrebe, Grey-necked Wood Rail, Black-necked Stilt, Northern Jacana, Spotted Sandpiper, Pale-vented Pigeon, Red-billed Pigeon, Ruddy Ground Dove, Blue Ground Dove, White-tipped Dove, Great Green Macaw, Olive-throated Parakeet, Finsch's Parakeet, Orange-fronted Parakeet, Orange-chinned Parakeet, Groove-billed Ani, Mangrove Cuckoo, Great Potoo, Lesser Nighthawk, Grey-rumped Swift, Lesser Swallow-tailed Swift, Bronzy Hermit, Green-breasted Mango, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Black-headed Trogon, Green Kingfisher, Amazon Kingfisher, Ringed Kingfisher, Belted Kingfisher, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Collared Aracari, Black-cheeked Woodpecker, Hoffmann's Woodpecker, Lineated Woodpecker (H), Wedge-billed Woodcreeper, Yellow-bellied Elaenia, Northern Beardless Tyrannulet, Common Tody-Flycatcher, Social Flycatcher, Grey-capped Flycatcher, Great Kiskadee, Tropical Kingbird, Dusky-capped Flycatcher, Bright-rumped Attila, Black-crowned Tityra, Masked Tityra, Cinnamon Becard, Lesser Greenlet, Mangrove Swallow, Grey-breasted Martin, Spot-breasted Wren, Southern House Wren, Wood Thrush, Clay-coloured Thrush, House Sparrow, Tennessee Warbler, American Yellow Warbler, Prothonotary Warbler, Montezuma Oropendola, Yellow-billed Cacique, Orchard Oriole, Red-winged Blackbird, Great-tailed Grackle, Nicaraguan Grackle, Eastern Meadowlark, Bananaquit, Crimson-collared Tanager, Passerini's Tanager, Blue-grey Tanager, Palm Tanager, Golden-hooded Tanager, Variable Seedeater, White-collared Seedeater, Nicaraguan Seed Finch, Summer Tanager, Red-crowned Ant Tanager, Buff-throated saltator, Greyish Saltator, Blue-black Grosbeak.

7 February 2011

Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge and adjacent area.

We were up at 05:00 and after a quick coffee with the others we headed out to the boat dock to travel up the Río Frío in the opposite direction to yesterday's trip. It's a wonderful way to start a day and the Grey-breasted Wood Rail was there to greet us.

Ernesto was our trusty boatman again and we set off eagerly. On the bank we saw Black-cheeked and Golden-headed Woodpeckers nesting in the same snag and farther along a Lineated Woodpecker was excavating a hole. As was the case yesterday there were hundreds and hundreds of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks and large flocks of Blue-winged Teal also. A Peregrine Falcon was causing them considerable agitation, but it didn't appear to be hunting in earnest.

We saw several Limpkins and a couple of Double-striped Thick-knees. The sheer number of herons and ibises were a cause of wonderment and pleasure for everyone. Such spectacles of nature remain forever etched in the memory of every birder lucky enough to experience them. Equally memorable were three Green Ibis, finally in full view after hearing them for quite a while. Ernesto and I were the only two with the good fortune to spot a Grey-headed Dove.

We returned to the lodge at about 09:00 for breakfast where we partook of fruit, followed by a custom made omelette, rice and beans, plantain and a little fried pastry with refried beans and cheese. After this feast Miriam said, “We'd better walk today!”

After a brief visit to our room we joined everyone for a walk around the grounds where both Bay Wren and Spot-breasted Wren sang robustly but we were unable to draw them into view.

Just Miriam and I joined Charlie and Niño for a walk along a road outside the grounds, where there was no shortage of birds. A House Wren had built its nest inside the box containing the watthour meter at a house, but the dial seemed to still be registering electrical consumption!

A distinct pleasure was to find a Lesser Nightjar roosting on a branch no more than four metres above the ground, where we could see it very clearly. It was hot, but the birding was great and it was very agreeable to be out with Charlie and Niño. We added our only Pied Puffbird and Red-faced Spinetail of the trip. Just before the end of our walk we saw a pair of Chestnut-coloured Woodpeckers.

It was close to 13:00 when we arrived back for lunch so we stopped at the bar for a cold beer, so thirst-quenching and refreshing after our long, hot walk.

For lunch we had a little salad, then small amounts of chicken fried rice, black beans, squash with red onion and cassava chips. Miriam also tried a piece of beef which she said was pretty tough. For dessert we were presented with hot rice pudding.

Back at the room Miriam changed into her bathing suit and headed for the pool where she spent almost an hour. She was joined there by Ruth Marie, Jack and Mary at different times.

When she returned we sat outside our room and relaxed. The poolside bar was being set up so I went to get us a cold ginger ale and a tonic water.

At 16:30 we left with Jimmy and Ruth Marie, and Charlie and Niño of course, to venture forth and search for owls. It didn't take Charlie long to lure in a Striped Owl which flew away and then reappeared again. We were all able to get very good looks at this species and it was followed in short order by a Mottled Owl. Charlie then tried to call in a Black-and-White Owl without success. Niño located a Common Potoo for us. This trip was turning out to be superb in terms of nocturnal species seen.

We stayed out until well after 19:30 and then returned to the lodge where we went directly to dinner. I had black bean soup which was served with hard boiled egg halves, and we both had rice, carrots and green beans and chicken stir fry. Pasta and pieces of beef were also available but we passed on those items. Dessert was a banana custard with a drizzle of chocolate sauce.

We did our checklist immediately after eating and then returned to our room where Miriam got us both organized to leave the next morning!

All species 7 February – Grey-headed Chachalaca, Black-bellied Whistling Duck, Blue-winged Teal, Wood Stork, Green Ibis, American White Ibis, Roseate Spoonbill, Bare-throated Tiger Heron, Black-crowned Night Heron, Green Heron, Western Cattle Egret, Great Blue Heron, Western Great Egret, Tricoloured Heron, Little Blue Heron, Snowy Egret, Neotropic Cormorant, Anhinga, Turkey Vulture, Black Vulture, Roadside Hawk, Northern Crested Caracara, Yellow-headed Caracara, Laughing Falcon, Peregrine Falcon, White-throated Crake (H), Grey-necked Wood Rail, Limpkin, Double-striped Thick-knee, Black-necked Stilt, Northern Jacana, Spotted Sandpiper, Pale-vented Pigeon, Ruddy Ground Dove, Blue Ground Dove, White-tipped Dove, Grey-headed Dove, Finsch's Parakeet, Orange-chinned Parakeet, White-crowned Parrot, Red-lored Amazon, Groove-billed Ani, Mottled Owl, Striped Owl, Common Potoo, Lesser Nighthawk, Pauraque, White-collared Swift, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Black-headed Trogon, American Pygmy Kingfisher, Green Kingfisher, Amazon Kingfisher, Ringed Kingfisher, Belted Kingfisher, Pied Puffbird, Collared Aracari, Keel-billed Toucan, Olivaceous Piculet, Black-cheeked Woodpecker, Golden-olive Woodpecker, Chestnut -coloured Woodpecker, Lineated Woodpecker, Red-faced Spinetail, Streak-headed Woodcreeper, Fasciated Antshrike, Great Antshrike, Bare-crowned Antbird (H), Greenish Elaenia, Yellow-bellied Elaenia, Yellow Tyrannulet, Paltry Tyrannulet, Common Tody-Flycatcher, Tropical Pewee, Social Flycatcher, Great Kiskadee, Tropical Kingbird, Dusky-capped Flycatcher, Black-crowned Tityra, Masked Tityra, Cinnamon Becard, Lesser Greenlet, Mangrove Swallow, Blue-and-White Swallow, Barn Swallow, Spot-breasted Wren (H), Bay Wren (H), Southern House Wren, Yellow-throated Euphonia, Tennessee Warbler, Chestnut-sided Warbler, American Yellow Warbler, Prothonotary Warbler, Northern Waterthrush, Olive-crowned Yellowthroat, Grey-crowned Yellowthroat, Montezuma Oropendola, Orchard Oriole, Baltimore Oriole, Melodious Blackbird (H), Red-winged Blackbird, Great-tailed Grackle, Nicaraguan Grackle, Bananaquit, Black-striped Sparrow, Passerini's Tanager, Blue-grey Tanager, Palm Tanager, Golden-hooded Tanager, Red-legged Honeycreeper, Variable Seedeater, White-collared Seedeater, Nicaraguan Seed Finch, Summer Tanager, Buff-throated Saltator.

8 February 2011

Caño Negro – Road to Colonia Puntarenas – Celeste Mountain Road

We awoke at 05:00 and went to the dining room for coffee at 05:45. A throng of people were already there having breakfast.

At 06:00h we started to bird the grounds with Charlie and Niño, and were joined by Ruth Marie for short while. Birding was not easy this morning, with not a whole lot of activity, but we did manage to lure out a Bay Wren after a lot of coaxing.

This was the first day of the trip when we didn't have a lifer before breakfast!

Everyone got together for breakfast at 07:00; once again we started with a plate of fresh fruit, followed by an omelette built to order. Miriam added rice and beans, a vegetable mixture of squash and carrots, plantain and a pancake with syrup. At least she passed on the sausages! She is indeed a trencherman (woman?) extraordinaire, yet remains svelte and lovely.

We returned to the room to finish packing, Miriam took a few last minute pictures and we were on the road by 08:00.

Driving down a dusty, dirt road we stopped to bird whenever we saw something interesting, which included a troupe of howler monkeys bounding from tree to tree across the road. At this stop, Niño once again used his ultra sensitive hearing to locate a White-ringed Flycatcher, a lifer for everyone. This merited a thank you even from Charlie who is himself impressed with Niño's performance.

Curiously, in this area we saw many stores advertising Alka Seltzer. Is this a message about the meals around here?

At about 10:15 we stopped at a little roadside restaurant at Colonia Puntarenas to use the facilities. As is usually the case there is a small charge. I don't know whether it is waived if you eat at the restaurant but Charlie paid for us all. I bought a little snack something like an arepa stuffed with meat and peppers and it was quite delicious (and I didn't need Alka Seltzer), and a Diet Coke. Miriam had a peach iced tea.

Following this stop we motored on to a paved road and arrived at Celeste Mountain Lodge before noon. We were met by the owner, Joel, an interesting guy who was born in Montreal of French parents, returned to France at a young age, then went back to Canada in his twenties and lived in Vancouver for twenty years. Finally he wound up in Costa Rica where he owns and operates Celeste Mountain Lodge. He explained in some detail his environmental philosophy, and it is reflected throughout this truly fabulous hostelry. The entire structure was built from recycled materials, including over a thousand recycled truck tires for drainage and retaining walls, left over steel tubes for lamps and decorative items, scrap metal for the kitchen hood and chimney and so on. All of the food is bought locally, with preference given to organic farming, hot water is provided by solar panels, bio gas is produced from kitchen waste, boards made from recycled plastic are used to create furniture – and so it continues.

And the whole place is stunningly beautiful. This was my favourite lodge of all.

Our room was basic, but very comfortable and interesting. The lampshades were made from artistically fashioned corrugated tin, metal channel iron painted in bright colours adorned the walls, the stools were plastic stuffed with coconut fibre, as was true throughout the facility. There was no glass window, but each opening was enclosed by insect proof mesh, with metal slats that could be opened or closed. When open we looked over the lovely gardens created with only indigenous flora.

I almost forgot to mention that upon arrival we were greeted by a Great Curassow. I had never seen one in my life before this trip and now we experienced the bird at two locations in Costa Rica! This is a young bird that has quickly learned that it can hang around the kitchen for handouts.

Lunch was fabulous, served on a banana leaf on a wooden platter, made from scrap wood of course. We had a salad, rice, squash and beef, all very well seasoned and cooked to perfection. Our dessert, again served on wood, was ice cream in a slice of grilled pineapple. We finished everything with delicious organic coffee and returned to our room.

At 14:30 we headed out on a walk through the forest on trails carefully maintained by the lodge. After a while it started to rain with a vengeance and we had no choice but to wait it out beneath our umbrellas. Finally it stopped and we continued to search for birds. Ample reward was provided by three species of motmot – Tody, Keel-billed and Broad-billed, a Yellow-eared Toucanet, two gorgeous Long-tailed Tyrants and others.

Near the end of the trail Jimmy slipped on a rock and hurt his right hand. It quickly started to swell and his little finger began to discolour. Fortunately nothing was broken but it certainly seemed that his videotaping activity might be restricted.

We were back at our room about 17:30 and showered before meeting everyone in the downstairs reading room to do our list.

Before recounting what we enjoyed for dinner, I should say a word about the kitchen. It was spacious, well-designed and open to view from the dining room. Everything that went on there was on display for everyone to see. It was run so professionally by Eric, the manager, that it was like a well-oiled machine. It was an impressive operation.

Dinner started with tomato and goat cheese on a round of bread, followed by pork served on pineapple with blackberry sauce, carrots beans and onions, and potatoes. Dessert was a lemon and banana cake with a coconut coating drizzled with chocolate. And all was served in a manner befitting a high end restaurant in any city in the world.

By 20:30 we were back in our room considering ourselves the beneficiaries of great good fortune in staying at this wonderful place.

Accommodation: Celeste Mountain Lodge Rating: Five stars plus.

All species 8 February – Great Curassow, Wood Stork, American White Ibis, Bare-throated Tiger Heron, Black-crowned Night Heron, Green Heron, Western Cattle Egret, Great Blue Heron, Western Great Egret, Tricoloured Heron, Little Blue Heron, Snowy Egret, Turkey Vulture, Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture, Black Vulture, Swallow-tailed Kite, White-tailed Kite, Roadside Hawk, Zone-tailed Hawk, Yellow-headed Caracara, Red-billed Pigeon, Short-billed Pigeon (H), Ruddy Ground Dove, Blue Ground Dove, White-tipped Dove, Olive-throated Parakeet, Finsch's Parakeet, Orange-chinned Parrot, Brown-hooded Parrot, Red-lored Amazon, Groove-billed Ani, Great Potoo, Pauraque (H), White-collared Swift, Brown Violetear, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Black-tailed Trogon, Tody Motmot, Keel-billed Motmot, Broad-billed Motmot, Yellow-eared Toucanet, Keel-billed Toucan (H), Black-cheeked Woodpecker, Rufous-winged Woodpecker, Lineated Woodpecker, Wedge-billed Woodcreeper, Streak-headed Woodcreeper, Barred Antshrike, Yellow-bellied Elaenia, Yellow Tyrannulet, Paltry Tyrannulet, Common Tody-Flycatcher, Tropical Pewee, Long-tailed Tyrant, Social Flycatcher, Great Kiskadee, White-ringed Flycatcher, Tropical Kingbird, Bright-rumped Attila, Black-crowned Tityra, Masked Tityra, Thrush-like Schiffornis, White-throated Magpie-Jay, Blue-and-White Swallow, Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Spot-breasted Wren, Bay Wren, Wood Thrush, Clay-coloured Thrush, Yellow-throated Euphonia, Olive-backed Euphonia, Tennessee Warbler, Tropical Parula, Chestnut-sided Warbler, American Yellow Warbler, Northern Waterthrush, Olive-crowned Yellowthroat, Grey-crowned Yellowthroat, Montezuma Oropendola, Baltimore Oriole, Great-tailed Grackle, Bananaquit, Black-striped Sparrow, Orange-billed Sparrow, Carmiol's Tanager, Passerini's Tanager, Blue-grey Tanager, Palm Tanager, Golden-hooded Tanager, Blue-black Grassquit, Variable Seedeater, White-collared Seedeater, Thick-billed Seed Finch, Yellow-faced Grassquit, Tooth-billed Tanager (H), Summer Tanager, Buff-throated Saltator, Blue-black Grosbeak (H).

9 February 2011

Celeste Mountain Lodge – Heliconias Lodge – Celeste Mountain Lodge

A Pauraque calling loudly and incessantly outside our room awoke us before the alarm set for 05:30 went off. At first light we went upstairs to find Charlie and Niño already there. There was a small pot of coffee ready so we each had a cup and sat overlooking the grounds enjoying the birds and the early morning sun.

Breakfast was at 07:30. We were served a fruit salad in a coconut shell. Two half shells were actually attached together so that one formed a pedestal base. This was followed by a savoury puff pastry with three small pancakes. On the table were three dishes containing cane syrup, chocolate sauce and a sweetened cream. As you might expect we tried each of the sauces on a different pancake. All were pronounced delicious by everyone present. Between us we killed a couple of carafes of coffee, said “Good Morning” to the curassow, and made for the van.

At 08:15 we were heading down the road to the paved road at the bottom to drive to Heliconias Lodge. This was quite an adventure with excellent birding, which included a detailed observation of a Lattice-tailed Trogon. I think that Charlie was as excited as we were, and it wasn't even a lifer for him! We had to cross three suspension bridges, with wonderful views of the canopy below. These are the kind of bridges which always snap in the jungle adventure movies and the hero clings on and lives to battle the forces of evil again. Our bridges seemed to be well attached and secure, but we nevertheless felt ourselves quite intrepid in crossing them! It doesn't take much for self conferred heroism in sexagenarians and septuagenarians!

We arrived back at Celeste at 11:45 and washed off our muddy boots before going inside. After a brief detour to our room we joined everyone in the dining room for lunch at 12:30.

There was a pitcher of tamarind juice on the table. Everyone poured a glass, thought it superb and in short order we needed another one.

Lunch was simply incredible. As always a banana leaf served as the plate for a perfectly cooked fish, topped with mango and papaya salsa, accompanied by a mixture of potato and yucca mashed together, a melange of local vegetables and a small salad of lettuce, tomato, cucumber and avocado. Dessert was two light, fluffy crepes folded over a mixture of banana and dulce de leche, and drizzled with chocolate. A couple of brilliantly coloured flowers strategically placed against the dark green of the banana leaf made the presentation worthy of a five star restaurant.

Congratulation to Joel, Eric and the entire kitchen staff for excellence at every turn. They brought simple food, done well, to a new level of excellence.

Miriam took a stroll through the gardens, but each section is self contained with no access from one “cell” to the next, so you have to return to the starting point to enter the next section.

We relaxed in our room until 14:30 when we left with our personal guides, Charlie and Niño to bird the trails we covered yesterday, but this time going higher up the side of the volcano. I had counted my lifers before going out and was at ninety-nine. My hundredth turned out to be a Rufous Mourner showing itself so well. Then I added a delicate and beautiful Purplish-backed Quail-Dove, an extraordinary Song Wren which not only gave us good views but entertained us with its incredible song, a Tawny-throated Leaftosser and others.

Apart from the birds, it was an exercise in companionable satisfaction to be out in the forest with Charlie and Niño. I cannot imagine two more agreeable comrades.

We were back in our room just before 17:45. Miriam showered right away, put on clean clothes for dinner and we met to do our list at 18:15.

There were pitchers of Sangria available tonight, so Miriam and I both had a glass while doing the checklist, and very good it was too. As far as the meal was concerned, we can only say that excellence follows excellence. We started with a quesadilla, followed by a chicken filet with heart of palm and tomato sauce, sweet potato puree and a vegetable medley. Dessert was a peach flan.

Not a scrap was left on anyone's plate.

We went to our room at 20:00 to get changed into our jeans to go owling with Charlie and Niño. At the start of the trail we had covered in the afternoon, Charlie started to play his tape and a Crested Owl returned the call almost immediately, but we had trouble locating it. Finally Niño got the bird in his light through a gap in the leaves and we were thrilled to see this gorgeous and distinctive species. Heading back to the lodge, Charlie thought that we should try for Black-and-White Owl too. Niño decided to call it a day and he headed back to the lodge, but we accompanied Charlie farther up a muddy road still under construction, but had no success with the owl.

We returned to our room and were soon in bed, very happy with another day of fabulous birding in a country that we were appreciating more very day. Thanks are certainly due to Ruth Marie for organizing this trip and inviting us along.

All species 9 February – Great Tinamou (H), Great Curassow, Black-eared Wood Quail (H), Western Cattle Egret, Turkey Vulture, Black Vulture, Swallow-tailed Kite, White Hawk, Northern Crested Caracara, Red-billed Pigeon, White-winged Dove, Ruddy Ground Dove, White-tipped Dove, Purplish-backed Quail-Dove, Finsch's Parakeet, Orange-chinned parakeet, Groove-billed Ani, Crested Owl, Pauraque, White-collared Swift, Grey-rumped Swift, Brown Violetear, Violet-headed Hummingbird, Violet-crowned Woodnymph, Blue-throated Sapphire, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Lattice-tailed Trogon, Slaty-tailed Trogon, Black-throated Trogon, Tody Motmot, Keel-billed Motmot, Collared Aracari, Keel-billed Toucan, Chestnut-mandibled Toucan, Black-cheeked Woodpecker, Cinnamon Woodpecker, Tawny-throated Leaftosser, Wedge-billed Woodcreeper, Streak-headed Woodcreeper, Barred Antshrike, Dusky Antbird (H), Dull-mantled Antbird, Spotted Antbird, Common Tody Flycatcher, Social Flycatcher, Great Kiskadee, Tropical Kingbird, Rufous Mourner, Thrush-like Schiffornis (H), Cinnamon Becard, Lesser Greenlet, Brown Jay, Blue-and-White Swallow, Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Southern Rough-winged Swallow, Stripe-breasted Wren (H), Southern House Wren, White-breasted Wood Wren, Song Wren, Sooty Thrush, Clay-coloured Thrush, Yellow-throated Euphonia, Tawny-capped Euphonia (H), Golden-browed Chlorophonia, Tennessee Warbler, Tropical Parula, Chestnut-sided Warbler, American yellow Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Black-and-White Warbler, Montezuma Oropendola, Baltimore Oriole, Great-tailed Grackle, Bananaquit, Black-striped Sparrow, Carmiol's Tanager, Passerini's Tanager, Blue-grey Tanager, Golden-hooded Tanager, Blue-black Grassquit, Variable seedeater, Yellow-faced Grassquit, Common Bush Tanager, Tooth-billed Tanager, Summer Tanager, Buff-throated Saltator, Blue-black Grosbeak.

10 February 2011

Celeste Mountain Lodge – Road to Bijagua – Hacienda La Pacifica – Río Tenorio

For the first time this trip Miriam stayed in bed while I got up to go birding with Charlie and Niño. We met at around 06:00, had a coffee together, and strolled down the road from the lodge to the fringes of the forest.

When we returned for breakfast at 07:30 Miriam was sitting looking out at the birds from the open dining room windows while having a coffee. We all sat down at our table and enjoyed a fruit salad in a coconut shell again, followed by an omelette, a small puff pastry and a warm bread roll. Three jams were placed on the table – pineapple with anise, guava with cinnamon, and blackberry. There was plenty of hot coffee and only the thought of the need for washroom breaks along the route stopped us from drinking even more than we did.

We went back to our room at 08:00 to finish packing for a 09:00 departure. When I settled my bill with Joel I bought a painted Scarlet Macaw on a piece of wood and true to his dedication to the local economy he explained that it was done by a single mother in a local village who had shown real talent for such work and was now affiliated with a dealer in San José. I also invested $7.00 to plant a tree, evidence of which we had seen along the dirt road near the forest.

We didn't have far to drive so we proceeded at a leisurely pace. We stopped a couple of times, once for a sloth curled up in the swaying branches of a tree, a second time for a Pale-billed Woodpecker and while we were watching that bird a couple of White-fronted Amazons flew overhead. Both the woodpecker and the parrots were lifers.

It wasn't long after hitting the highway we noticed a decided change in vegetation. We were now driving through dry savannah with widely spaced trees.

At 10:40 we arrived at Hacienda La Pacifica and were served a cold mixed fruit drink. It was very refreshing. Niño actually drove us to our casitas which were a little removed from the front desk, since all of the luggage was in the van.

The casita was quite large and quite suited to our purpose. There was a covered porch at the back with chairs, ideal for relaxing away from the direct rays of the sun.

Miriam and I wasted little time and started birding the area behind our room, then walked back to the reception area to meet up with everyone else.

We birded around the grounds until lunch time, being especially entertained by Rufous-naped Wrens which were ubiquitous and noisily cheerful. Mary said that they were the friendliest wrens she had ever met. We also saw our first White-lored Gnatcatchers, and Tropical Kingbirds seemed to be sallying forth to snag passing insects wherever we looked.

Upon arrival, Charlie had suggested that we order lunch from the menu to save time later, especially since there would be a large crowd for lunch and our group had been placed in a separate dining area. At 12:30 we went inside to eat. Miriam had tilapia with Pacifica sauce (shrimp and hearts of palm), while I had a steak a la pimienta based on Niño's recommendation. Both were very good and we washed it all down with a cold beer. Both dishes were accompanied by rice and vegetables. The portions were generous and the steak was cooked exactly the way I ordered it.

We skipped dessert, but the others raved about it.

Back at the room, Miriam washed out some clothes and by hanging them outside in the hot, dry breeze they dried very quickly. I took a short nap, and Miriam read. Thank goodness for air conditioning!

At 15:15 we left for our raft ride down the Río Tenorio. Charlie said of the rapids, “On a scale of one to ten with one being the calmest, they are a minus one.” I think he was being generous! But we weren't looking for white water, spills and excitement. A little more tranquil ride and good bird spotting was more to our liking. Ah, what the heck, maybe for the grandchildren we'll hype it up a little! They'll be enthralled to hear how I rescued Gramiam from the jaws of a crocodile!

We clambered into two large rubber rafts, Charlie, Jack and Mary in one; Jimmy, Ruth Marie and Miriam and I in the other. Unfortunately, Niño was unable to join us since he had to drive the van to the docking point downstream. In addition to great birding we saw American Crocodile, Green Iguana, Jesus Christ Lizard (so named because of its habit of “walking” on water,) a Mexican Vine Snake, Orange-eared Slider and Bulldog Fishing Bats. There were a couple of groups of Mantled Howlers and American Spider Monkey too.

Our boatman was a cheerful fellow and showed us a picture of the bird on a chart each time we saw one. I think that he soon realized he had no need to do so! Since he knows the river, however, he was very familiar with every location where one might see things of interest.

The boat ride lasted for a couple of hours and Niño was there to take us back to La Pacifica.

Miriam had a quick shower and we then walked back to the dining room to do our list at 18:30. We both ordered a glass of wine and the first taste of very warm liquid gave us a whole new insight to the phrase “Serve at room temperature!”

Miriam ordered a shrimp and avocado salad, which was pretty bland, but enough for a meal even though it was listed as an appetizer. I ordered steak again, this time with hacienda sauce; again it was cooked very well and the sauce was delicious.

After dinner I showered and Miriam washed out more clothes.

We were in bed soon after 21:00.

Accommodation: Hacienda La Pacifica Rating: Four stars.

All species 10 February – Wood Stork, Bare-throated Tiger Heron, Boat-billed Heron, Black-crowned Night Heron, Green Heron, Western Cattle Egret, Western Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Anhinga, Turkey Vulture, Black Vulture, Western Osprey, Swallow-tailed Kite, Sharp-shinned Hawk, White Hawk, Grey-lined Hawk, Roadside Hawk, Zone-tailed Hawk, Northern Crested Caracara, Yellow-headed Caracara, Laughing Falcon, American Kestrel, Northern Jacana, Spotted Sandpiper, Red-billed Pigeon, White-winged Dove, Common Ground Dove, White-tipped Dove, Orange-chinned Parakeet, White-crowned Parrot, White-fronted Amazon, Groove-billed Ani, Squirrel Cuckoo, Mangrove Cuckoo, Pauraque, White-collared Swift, Green Violetear, Violet-crowned Woodnymph, Canivet's Emerald, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Steely-vented Hummingbird, Green Kingfisher, Amazon Kingfisher, Collared Aracari, Keel-billed Toucan, Black-cheeked Woodpecker, Hoffmann's Woodpecker, Pale-billed Woodpecker, Wedge-billed Woodcreeper, Northern Barred Woodcreeper, Spotted Woodcreeper (H), Dull-mantled Antbird, Yellow-olive Flatbill, Social Flycatcher, Great Kiskadee, Boat-billed Flycatcher, Tropical Kingbird, Brown-crested Flycatcher, Bright-rumped Attila (H), White-collared Manakin, Long-tailed Manakin, Lesser Greenlet, White-throated Magpie-Jay, Blue-and-White Swallow, Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Barn Swallow, Rufous-naped Wren, Southern House Wren, White-breasted Wood Wren (H), White-lored Gnatcatcher, Wood Thrush, Clay-coloured Thrush, Tennessee Warbler, American Yellow Warbler, Wilson's Warbler, Montezuma Oropendola, Spot-breasted Oriole, Baltimore Oriole, Streak-backed Oriole, Red-winged Blackbird, Great-tailed Grackle, Passerini's Tanager, Blue-grey Tanager, Golden-hooded Tanager, Blue-black Grassquit, Variable Seedeater, Summer Tanager.

11 February 2011

Palo Verde National Park and Wildlife Refuge

Miriam was wide awake by 01:30. The air conditioning was no longer running so the cabin was very hot. I slept on and off but neither of us was well rested when the alarm sounded at 04:30.

Breakfast was at 05:00. There was cold delicious orange juice and steaming hot coffee. Breakfast was scrambled eggs, a sort of processed ham and bread.

By 05:30 we were on our way, minus Jack and Mary who had decided to stay behind for the day.

We made several stops along a gravel road where the bird life was quite prolific. One tree had a Black-headed Trogon and a group of Yellow-naped Parrots, while a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher flew over it. We scanned a rice paddy where we located a Swainson's Hawk perched in a distant tree, and several Spot-bellied Bobwhites scurried across the road. We lost them in the vegetation but while searching located six Double-striped Thick-knees.

At 07:45 we arrived at Palo Verde National Park, where there is a huge expanse of wetland. We lingered for a while to view the vast array of wetland species including Black-bellied Whistling Duck, Muscovy Duck, Blue-winged Teal, a full complement of herons and egrets, ibises, Roseate Spoonbills, raptors and more. We searched diligently for Jabiru but none were to be seen.

We drove to a forested trail where we began to walk along a steep, rocky trail. The birding was excellent with highlights such as Canivet's Emerald, Elegant Trogon and Turquoise-browed Motmot, arguably the most exquisite of all the motmots. The trail proved to be a little too challenging for Ruth Marie so we left her sitting on a stump part way up and moved on a little farther.

When we made our way back down she was rested and we all returned to the van together. Hacienda La Pacifica had packed a lunch for us and we enjoyed it at a picnic table surrounded by monkeys in the adjacent trees. Despite the promise of food none of them approached us. There was a tuna pasta salad with cilantro which was very tasty and quite filling. We also had sandwiches but I don't think anyone ate them. Niño collected them to give to the guard at the gate on our way out. A lovely dessert on a hot day comprised cold watermelon, papaya and pineapple.

After lunch we walked out on a boardwalk to scan the marshes again. We had a wonderful sighting of a Hook-billed Kite, and revelled in the sheer numbers of typical marsh denizens. We met a British birder, in Costa Rica for the first time, and birding totally alone. It was his maiden foray in the Americas and the birds were confusing to him, so we were able to help him quite a bit.

At 14:00 we left the park to return to La Pacifica. Given the heat and the fairly strenuous walking, we were glad to be resting in the van.

As soon as we arrived back, Miriam went to get a pool towel and headed for the pool to cool off. Even the shallow end was fairly deep for her since she does not swim well, and there were other people swimming and playing boisterously, so she didn't stay long. For the rest of the afternoon we relaxed together on our back patio, entertained regally by Rufous-naped Wrens and a Tropical Kingbird flycatching in front of us.

We met up with our group at 18:00 to do the list. Miriam had a glass of cold white wine and I had a gin and tonic.

For dinner, at Charlie's suggestion, I ordered the Costa Rican barbeque, which features small portions of chicken, steak and pork, with yucca, refried beans, rice and salsa. It was very good! Miriam chose filet mignon which she ordered medium, but it was in fact a little too rare for her liking. Everyone had been raving about the coconut flan they had had for dessert so I tried that and Miriam had crepes with ice cream and chocolate drizzle.

After dinner we walked back to our room. The heat had subsided somewhat but the air still had a decadent, languorous quality to it. When we mused about the likelihood of snow at home it seemed very appealing indeed.

We read for a while and turned in for the night.

All species 11 February – Spot-bellied Bobwhite, Black-bellied Whistling Duck, Fulvous Whistling Duck, Muscovy Duck, Blue-winged Teal, Wood Stork, American White Ibis, Glossy Ibis, Roseate Spoonbill, Bare-throated Tiger Heron, Green Heron, Western Cattle Egret, Great Blue Heron, Western Great Egret, Tri-coloured Heron, Little Blue Heron, Snowy Egret, Anhinga, Turkey Vulture, Black Vulture, Hook-billed Kite, White-tailed Kite, Northern Harrier, Roadside Hawk, Short-tailed Hawk, Swainson's Hawk, Northern Crested Caracara, American Kestrel, Purple Gallinule. American Coot, Limpkin, Double-striped Thick-knee, Black-necked Stilt, Northern Jacana, White-winged Dove, Inca Dove, Common Ground Dove, White-tipped Dove, White-fronted Amazon, Yellow-naped Amazon, Groove-billed Ani, Squirrel Cuckoo, Mangrove Cuckoo, Canivet's Emerald, Cinnamon Hummingbird, Steely-vented Hummingbird, Plain-capped Starthroat, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Black-headed Trogon, Elegant Trogon, Turquoise-browed Motmot, Hoffmann's Woodpecker, Northern Barred Woodcreeper, Streak-headed Woodcreeper, Yellow-olive Flatbill, Eastern Wood Pewee (H), Great Kiskadee, Streaked Flycatcher, Tropical Kingbird, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Nutting's Flycatcher, Great Crested Flycatcher, Brown-crested Flycatcher, Long-tailed Manakin, Yellow-throated Vireo, Philadelphia Vireo, Lesser Greenlet, White-throated Magpie-Jay, Barn Swallow, Rufous-naped Wren, Banded Wren, White-lored Gnatcatcher, Clay-coloured Thrush, Tennessee Warbler, American Yellow Warbler, Black-and-White Warbler, Baltimore Oriole, Streak-backed Oriole, Red-winged Blackbird, Great-tailed Grackle, Grasshopper Sparrow, Stripe-headed Sparrow, Summer Tanager.

12 February 2011

La Pacifica – Hacienda Solimar – Villa Lapas

I was out at 06:00 to do some early birding with Charlie and Niño, but Miriam decided not to come. The birding around the grounds was very pleasant, although it was humid and the mosquitos gave no quarter. At 06:45 Miriam joined us, just at the right time as it turned out, since we had a Ferruginous Pygmy Owl perched on a branch for her to enjoy.

We walked over to the dining room for a 07:00 breakfast. The coffee is made in very small pots, barely two cups, so we were continually asking for refills. There was delicious cold orange juice with a freshly squeezed taste, and when I asked for a little fruit with my breakfast I was expecting a small amount at the side of my plate, but I was served a full plate of watermelon, papaya and pineapple, attractively presented with a little greenery, so I shared with Miriam. We both ordered fried egg, she had ham and I had bacon. Mine was the better choice since the ham was a square of the same kind of processed stuff we had yesterday. There was toast, and papaya and pineapple jam that was very good.

After breakfast we went for a walk on a trail just beyond the perimeter fence of La Pacifica. To gain entry we needed to get a key from a security guard who constantly patrolled the grounds. The absolute mind-bending experience of this walk was the lek of the Long-tailed Manakin. We had to crouch down and get in position to view three males performing their incredible leapfrog display where they catapult over each other in rapid succession. This went on for several minutes. A lone female seemed totally disinterested in the whole performance! When it was over we waited for a repeat show, but we had to be content with a clear, unobstructed view of a male on a branch. Whether he was ever successful in mating we'll never know.

I have seen the leks of other manakin species, but nothing came close to this amazing display. I commented to Miriam that if we were to see nothing else that day it would already have been the stuff of high quality memories.

By shortly after 10:00 we were on our way to Hacienda Solimar, a nine hundred hectare ranch that features environmental stewardship with cattle ranching and where we would have the opportunity to experience dry deciduous forest, riparian corridors and wetlands.

Upon arrival we were impressed by the large house and were escorted to the patio at the back where we would have lunch. No sooner had we settled into a comfortable chair than we heard Niño beckoning us to go to the driveway. Miriam and I quickly went there to see a Pacific Screech Owl which Niño had found roosting in a tree. Yet another life owl for the trip, and absolutely clear, unimpeded looks at it.

Lunch was fine fare indeed. There was stewed chicken, rice, beans, mixed vegetables, salad, cold fruit juice and hot rice pudding for dessert.

After lunch, accompanied by one of the employees of the ranch, we set off to drive the roads through the varied habitats of this marvellous location.

Along the irrigation canals we saw Black-bellied Whistling Ducks “by the bushels” as Charlie liked to say, with myriad herons, egrets and jacanas.

The ranch hand had to disembark from the van quite frequently to open and close gates as we passed from one pasture to another, and one gate had two large iguanas resting on it. Naturally, they scampered away when he approached and a crocodile lunged out of the water and snapped up one of them.

Charlie knew that I was dearly hoping for Jabiru and he was not worried when we were unable to find one yesterday at Palo Verde because he knew what I didn't know. Very casually he said, “Oh I see a couple of them.”

“What?” said I.

“Jabiru,” he replied.

I thought he was pulling my leg, but then he smiled broadly and asked Niño to stop the van. We all got out and in the scope we had an adult and two young in a nest. What an amazing bird this is, and to have my first sighting ever of an active nest, was more than I could have hoped for. It's at moments such as this that the sheer joy of birding washes over me in waves. Later we saw other individuals and had very closeup looks before the day was through.

Solimar was an exhilarating experience. And not just for the Jabiru. One saw huge concentrations of many avian species, in addition to the reptiles, and one had a glimpse of responsible care of the environment side by side with a commercial cattle operation. It was a great privilege to be there.

We left at 14:30 for the drive to Villa Lapas, along the coastal highway where we saw resort after resort. We didn't stop for birding but we saw our first Scarlet Macaw flying over.

When we arrived at Villa Lapas at 16:30 there was a delay at the front desk while the clerk searched for our reservation. Eventually we got our keys and Niño drove us to our rooms.

This resort is big, but looks old and run down. Maintenance was severely lacking and there were broken tiles on roofs that had not been replaced, the whole place looked a little unkempt and poorly cared for. Our room was adequate but needed a coat of paint and the shower looked grimy. Villa Lapas was our least favourite stay of the entire trip.

Miriam was about to take a shower when Charlie knocked at our door and asked if we would like to go birding for a bit. That's like asking the Pope if he wants to celebrate mass! We were joined by Jimmy and Ruth Marie and meandered around until around 18:00 when we went directly to a meeting room where Jack and Mary joined us to do our lists.

From there we went to dinner which featured an extensive buffet. There was a salad bar with numerous standard salad components, plus a wonderful guacamole. We both sampled the salad bar, then Miriam had vegetarian lasagna, a chicken kebob and mini potatoes. I tried the roast beef with mushroom sauce, mixed vegetables and mini potatoes. We both had a glass of Fuzion Shiraz with our dinner.

Miriam decided to have ice cream for dessert when Charlie told us that this would be our last chance to hunt for Black-and-White Owl, so she quickly finished it, and we left with Niño. We had to cross a little stream by stepping from rock to rock (bear in mind that it is dark, even though we have headlamps) and we then walked a considerable distance up a dry stream bed, filled with boulders and loose gravel. Part way along, Charlie reminded us to watch for snakes!

The owl answered the tape almost immediately, but it took quite a while for Charlie to locate it in a tree, where we were able to see it really well. We were happy to see the owl, another lifer, but were equally happy that Charlie had finally been able to deliver on his third attempt for this species.

We returned to our room to shower and get some sleep in preparation for an early start the next day.

All species 12 February – Black-bellied Whistling Duck, Fulvous Whistling Duck, Blue-winged Teal, Wood Stork, Jabiru, American White Ibis, Roseate Spoonbill, Bare-throated Tiger Heron, Black-crowned Night Heron, Green Heron, Western Cattle Egret, Great Blue Heron, Western Great Egret, Little Blue Heron, Snowy Egret, Neotropic Cormorant, Anhinga, Turkey Vulture, Black Vulture, Western Osprey, Broad-winged Hawk, Swainson's Hawk, Northern Crested Caracara, Yellow-headed Caracara, American Kestrel, Peregrine Falcon, Limpkin, Black-necked Stilt, Killdeer, Northern Jacana, Spotted Sandpiper, Laughing Gull, White-winged Dove, Inca Dove, Common Ground Dove, Plain-breasted Ground Dove, Ruddy Ground Dove, White-tipped Dove, Scarlet Macaw, Orange-fronted Parakeet, Groove-billed Ani, Squirrel Cuckoo, Pacific Screech Owl, Black-and-White Owl, Ferruginous Pygmy Owl, Lesser Swallow-tailed Swift, Scaly-breasted Hummingbird, Cinnamon Hummingbird, Steely-vented Hummingbird, Plain-capped Starthroat, Amazon Kingfisher, Ringed Kingfisher, Turquoise-browed Motmot (H), Fiery-billed Aracari, Hoffmann's Woodpecker, Greenish Elaenia, Paltry Tyrranulet, Yellow-olive Flatbill, Social Flycatcher, Grey-capped Flycatcher, Great Kiskadee, Streaked Flycatcher, Boat-billed Flycatcher, Tropical Kingbird, Bright-rumped Attila, Long-tailed Manakin, Rose-throated Becard, Philadelphia Vireo, Lesser Greenlet, Barn Swallow, Rufous-naped Wren, Southern House Wren, White-lored Gnatcatcher, Clay-coloured Thrush, Scrub Euphonia, Yellow-crowned Euphonia, Tennessee Warbler, American Yellow Warbler, Northern Waterthrush, Spot-breasted Oriole, Baltimore Oriole, Great-tailed Grackle, Blue-grey Tanager, Summer Tanager, Buff-throated Saltator.

13 February 2011

Villa Lapas – Carara National Park – Cerro Lodge Road

Charlie had arranged for an early breakfast at 05:30, which comprised cereal, fruit and hard boiled eggs. There was bread to make toast, but when Ruth Marie tried it the toaster burst into flames! Coffee was available but it was barely lukewarm.

Jack and Mary did not join us this morning and we headed out to Carara National Park, arriving there at 06:10. The park opens at 07:00 so we birded around the perimeter of the parking lot, which was quite active as birds started to feed at first light. The most common species was Ruddy Ground Dove and Costa Rican Swifts flew gracefully above.

The temperature was quite comfortable and the forest provided a degree of shade as we set out along the trails. The birding was very good indeed and we derived significant pleasure from the nest of a pair of Scarlet Macaws. This was the second breeding macaw species of the trip.

The only trogon we had not seen in Costa Rica was Baird's Trogon, a lifer, and we had not gone far into the forest when we located one. Other signal species were a lovely Ruddy Quail-Dove spotted by Niño and both Russet and Black-hooded Antshrikes.

The prize, however, was a nesting Northern Royal Flycatcher. This species builds nests up to two metres long, especially near or over wooded streams and it was in this habitat where we found our bird. The nest was in an advanced stage of construction, but not yet finished and the bird was adding to it. It is quite amazing to see this long, pendant structure suspended over a stream. I had hoped that I might get to see the crest for which this species is renowned, but when Charlie told me that he had only ever seen it once, I realized that my chances were slim. Even folded, the crest gives the bird a sort of hammerhead appearance; certainly it is unique among flycatchers.

When looking at the nest, I was given to thinking of typical tours of Europe where people are taken from one cathedral to the next, to a castle and yet another castle, a palace followed by another palace, and soon each stained glass window merges into the next, there's another granite mullion, more flying buttresses, gargoyles by the dozen, but who can remember what was where? Everything merges into a haze. Anthropogenic structures are like that, but I could never forget the amazing structure built by this flycatcher. Nature has a way of imprinting itself on your mind forever, and I for one revel in this fact.

The forest was alternately quiet and noisy, there was a delicate play between light and shade, subtle dappling was all around, the sweet sound of the stream was finer than a symphony. The dark tentacles of the forest are all-embracing, but here and there sunlight streams through and a riot of growth thrusts upwards.

How can one ever become unmoved by these primeval places?

Just before leaving there was a final flurry of activity with seven or eight species all flitting around, including Miriam's life Worm-eating Warbler, which was also a lifer for Niño.

We boarded the van and returned to Villa Lapas for lunch at 12:30. Miriam and I toasted the morning's success with a cold beer before eating. Then she made a foray to the salad bar while I tried the cream of asparagus soup. We followed with chicken fried rice, carrots and cauliflower and a piece of fish with tomato salsa. We had cold rice pudding for dessert.

Everyone relaxed in whatever way they chose until 15:45 when we left again to go birding. Traffic on the highway was slow and there was a bridge where many people stopped to watch the crocodiles in the water below. Soon we turned off onto the road past Cerro Lodge.

Several Scarlet Macaws flew over and we stopped at a field containing a number of Southern Lapwings. There was constant motion in the trees and many White-throated Magpie-Jays moved through.

We were back at our room by 18:15 and we agreed to meet at 18:30 to do the list. Dinner was cream of spinach soup, rice with palmetto, mixed vegetables and beef steak with a bernaise sauce. We enjoyed a glass of house red wine with dinner and a second one afterwards while we sat and chatted with Jack and Mary for a while.

We were back to the room by 21:00.

All species 13 February – Muscovy Duck, Wood Stork, Western Great Egret, Turkey Vulture, Black Vulture, Western Osprey, Roadside Hawk, Short-tailed Hawk, Northern Crested Caracara, Yellow-headed Caracara, Red-billed Pigeon, White-winged Dove, Inca Dove, Common Ground Dove, Ruddy Ground Dove, White-tipped Dove, Ruddy Quail-Dove, Scarlet Macaw, Orange-fronted Parakeet, Orange-cheeked Parakeet, Brown-hooded Parrot, White-crowned Parrot, Red-lored Amazon, Yellow-naped Amazon (H), Mealy Amazon, Groove-billed Ani, Ferruginous Pygmy Owl, Costa Rican Swift, Scaly-breasted Hummingbird, Blue-throated Sapphire, Cinnamon Hummingbird, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Steely-vented Hummingbird, Plain-capped Starthroat, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Black-headed Trogon, Gartered Trogon, Baird's Trogon, Black-throated Trogon, Chestnut-mandibled Toucan, Hoffmann's Woodpecker, Buff-throated Foilage Gleaner, Plain Xenops, Northern Barred Woodcreeper, Streak-headed Woodcreeper, Black-hooded Antshrike, Russet Antshrike, Slaty Antwren, Dusky Antbird, Chestnut-backed Antbird, Black-faced Antthrush, Paltry Tyrannulet, Ochre-bellied Flycatcher, Yellow-olive Flatbill, Golden-crowned Spadebill, Northern Royal Flycatcher, Social Flycatcher, Great Kiskadee, Streaked Flycatcher, Boat-billed Flycatcher, Tropical Kingbird, Dusky-capped Flycatcher, Brown-crested Flycatcher, White-winged Becard, Rose-throated Becard, Philadelphia Vireo, Lesser Greenlet, White-throated Magpie-Jay, Barn Swallow, Rufous-naped Wren, Rufous-breasted Wren, Riverside Wren, Rufous-and-White Wren, White-lored Gnatcatcher, Tropical Gnatcatcher, Wood Thrush, Clay-coloured Thrush, Scrub Euphonia, Yellow-throated Euphonia, Tennessee Warbler, Chestnut-sided Warbler, American Yellow Warbler, Worm-eating Warbler, Northern Waterthrush,Montezuma Oropendola, Baltimore Oriole, Great-tailed Grackle, Blue-grey Tanager, Summer Tanager.

14 February 2011

Tárcoles Mangrove Tour – Villa Lapas – Alfaro Workshop – Bougainvillea Hotel

We were up at 04:45 to get ready for our early morning boat ride on the Tárcoles River. We had a quick coffee and left at 05:15.

We arrived at the dock just as it was getting light and boarded our large, comfortable boat with eighteen seats. The boatman, a Colombian named José, was a convivial character, who knew the birds of the area and where to find them, to say nothing of a gigantic crocodile named Osama with whom he sang a love duet and induced the crocodile to come right up to the side of the boat.

On this outing we were exploring mangrove habitat and looking for some of the specialized inhabitants. We were very fortunate in locating Mangrove Hummingbird, Mangrove Vireo and Mangrove Warbler fairly easily; not only that, we had prolonged views of all of them.

We also added Panama Flycatcher and saw Whimbrel, Willet, Least and Baird's Sandpipers, our first sandpipers of the trip, other than for the ubiquitous Spotted Sandpiper. We were able to identify Laughing Gulls in the estuary but a large flock of terns was too far out to permit identification with certainty.

We sighted six species of kingfisher, of which Belted Kingfisher was the most common, leading us to speculate whether they were already migrating north.

Our final species of the boat ride was a Striped Cuckoo singing from the top of a tree as we pulled into the dock on our return.

It had been a fine way to spend the first three hours of the morning.

Back at Villa Lapas for breakfast we found little left at the buffet, no doubt since we were quite late. They quickly prepared fresh stuff, however, and I will record for posterity Miriam's modest meal -coffee, papaya, watermelon, an omelette, sausages, rice and beans, bananas in a sweet syrup and a square of banana cake! Ah, sitting in that boat sure works up an appetite!

Around 09:30 we went back to our room to change and finish packing. By 10:10 the van was loaded and we were on our way.

We drove to the town of Sarchi, the epicentre of woodworking in Costa Rica, both for furniture and the traditional painted ox cart which one sees all over the country. It was our good fortune to be able to tour the Taller Eloy Alfaro y Hijos, a business founded in 1925 and only recently sold by the family to other interests. The workshop was an amazing place to visit; the power for the machinery is still derived from a water wheel which drives the generators.

There was a gift shop with a range of sophisticated wooden products, including some interesting tableware. Most of the products were made right there, but the other wood products were all from Costa Rica – not a cheap Chinese import to be seen. I think we all made some purchases so it was a profitable stop for the business.

We then took lunch at a delightful local restaurant called la Carretara. We enjoyed a cold beer with a selection from a well-stocked salad bar, followed by a small portion of chicken, a burrito, rice with corn, and plantain. It was all very tasty.

At 14:00 we left on the final leg of our journey to the Bougainvillea Hotel. Mary wanted to get some of her biscochos so Niño made a stop at a grocery store. Unfortunately they didn't have the cheese flavoured ones that she prefers. A little later, despite Mary's protestations, Niño pulled into the parking lot of a larger grocery outlet and he and Mary went to check out the snack section. Bingo! She came out loaded with biscochos.

We arrived at the hotel at 15:30 and were given the same room as we had at the start of our trip. We decided to walk through the gardens one last time and do our final birding before leaving tomorrow. We had a very close encounter with a Squirrel Cuckoo and found a Southern House Wren actively tending its nest.

Back in our room we showered and changed for dinner. We met to do our final list and Mary presented me with an Audubon Society pin in recognition of all the Canada flag pins I had been handing out to children, and awarded Miriam and Ruth Marie a bag each of her cherished biscochos. Now that is sacrifice for you!

The farewell dinner is a feature of all the trips planned by Ruth Marie and it is a lovely way to end the adventure. We were joined by Charlies's wife, Vicki, who no doubt was glad to have him for a brief period, since he was leading another group starting the very next day. Ruth Marie had ordered a couple of bottles of Malbec Red for the table. Dinner was chosen from the menu, but we forgot to record what we had! We do remember, however, that it was excellent.

After dinner we all posed outside for a group picture, said our farewells and went up to our room to get some sleep. We had an early morning departure.

Accommodation: Bougainvillea Hotel Rating: Five stars.

All species 14 February – American White Ibis, Roseate Spoonbill, Bare-throated Tiger Heron, Boat-billed Heron, Black-crowned Night Heron, Yellow-crowned Night Heron, Green Heron, Western Cattle Egret, Great Blue Heron, Western Great Egret, Tricoloured heron, Little Blue Heron, Snowy Egret, Magnificent Frigatebird, Brown Pelican, Neotropic Cormorant, Anhinga, Turkey Vulture, Black Vulture, Western Osprey, Common Black Hawk, Roadside Hawk, Broad-winged Hawk, Short-tailed Hawk, Northern Crested Caracara, Yellow-headed Caracara, Black-necked Stilt, Wilson's Plover, Northern Jacana, Whimbrel, Willet, Spotted Sandpiper, Least Sandpiper, Baird's Sandpiper, Laughing Gull, Tern sp., Common Pigeon, Red-billed Pigeon, White-winged Dove, Inca Dove, Ruddy Ground Dove, White-tipped Dove, Scarlet Macaw, Finsch's Parakeet, Orange-chinned parakeet, Red-lored Amazon, Yellow-naped Amazon, Striped Cuckoo, Squirrel Cuckoo, Ferruginous Pygmy Owl (H), Scaly-breasted Hummingbird, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Mangrove Hummingbird, American Pygmy Kingfisher, Green Kingfisher, Amazon Kingfisher, Ringed Kingfisher, Belted Kingfisher, Turquoise-browed Motmot (H), White-whiskered Puffbird, Hoffmann's Woodpecker, Streak-headed Woodcreeper, Greenish Elaenia, Southern Beardless Tyrannulet, Common Tody-Flycatcher, Social Flycatcher, Great Kiskadee, Tropical Kingbird, Panamanian Flycatcher, Cinnamon Becard, Rufous-browed Peppershrike (H), Mangrove Vireo, Barn Swallow, Rufous-naped Wren, House Wren, Clay-coloured Thrush, Tennessee Warbler, American Yellow Warbler, Mangrove Warbler, Prothonotary Warbler, Northern Waterthrush, Montezuma Oropendola, Baltimore Oriole, Red-winged Blackbird, Great-tailed Grackle, Blue-grey Tanager, Variable Seedeater, Summer Tanager, Streaked Saltator.

15 February 2011

Hotel Bouganvillea – Atlanta – Toronto – Waterloo

We were awake at 03:45 to get down to the lobby in time for our pick up at 04:35.

There was coffee and cookies outside the lobby and we were picked up on time. Our transfer agent made sure to check whether we had cleared out the safe in the room, whether we had our tickets, passport etc. He also handed us an envelope with the receipt for our prepaid departure tax.

As we approached the airport everything went dark, so there was obviously a failure on the power grid somewhere. By the time we got to the airport some lights were on and their computers were running.

We checked our bags and went through Customs and Immigration. There was a great deal of security and our carry on luggage was hand searched twice. Once in the boarding lounge we ate some of the breakfast the hotel had prepared for us.

We took off at 08:30 for a three and a half hour flight to Atlanta. There was no third passenger in the seat next to us so we had lots of room and Miriam took the window seat while I sat on the aisle. We landed in Atlanta at 13:15 local time.

Our flight to Toronto was not until 14:55 so we lots of time to get to our departure gate. I picked up a turkey sandwich and a bottle of water, but Miriam was not hungry.

We took off almost on time but the plane was quite small and the overhead bins quickly filled up. I had to check my carry on bag, but not before removing my scope and binoculars.

Arrival in Toronto was on schedule, but there was an aircraft at our gate, so we waited quite a while before we could disembark.

As always, we speedily passed through Canada Customs and Immigration, collected our bags and were happy to see Karen and John waiting for us.

Since it was dinner time when we got to Waterloo, and by now Miriam was hungry, we all went to Swiss Chalet.

It was good to be home!

General Comments

This was a well organized trip with fabulous birding. All of the logistics were impeccably handled and we felt well cared for at all times. I would recommend Costa Rica as a fine destination for any birder. We certainly hope to return one day.

Major Highlights

  1. Resplendent Quetzal
  2. Jabiru

  3. Northern Royal Flycatcher

  4. Nine species of owl

  5. Nesting Great Green Macaws

Major Disappointments

There were really none on this trip. There were a few birds that I would have liked to have seen, but the nature of birding means that one often misses a species or two. It's a good reason to return.


Ruth Marie Lyons deserves a great deal of credit for organizing this trip and, in conjunction with Charlie, developing a first class itinerary. This is the only trip I have ever taken where I placed my faith in someone else's hands completely, and I do not regret having done so. All we had to do was show up for a first class adventure.

Costa Rica Expeditions

I cannot speak too highly of this very fine tour operator. At every step of the way, from our contacts with Douglas Espinoza in the office, to every driver and transfer guide, we were constantly impressed with their consummate professionalism.

Our Guides

Charlie Gomez and Niño Morales were absolutely superb. Apart from their amazing skills as bird guides they were as fine a pair of companions as one could ever wish to travel with, with a well developed sense of humour. I cannot imagine a duo who mesh together as well as Charlie and Niño. They obviously have great affection for each other and a deep respect for each other's talents and skills.

Each day was a pleasure; we are lucky to have journeyed with them.

Further Information

David M. Gascoigne or Miriam Bauman

606 The Osprey Drive

Waterloo, ON

Canada N2V 2A5

519 725-0866

Total Species List

The spread sheet format does not work on this blog. If anyone would like a complete summary, with all species seen and the lifers for Miriam and me, please let us know and we will send it to you as an email attachment.

Land Acknowledgement

We acknowledge that the land on which we are situated are the lands traditionally used by the Haudenosaunee, Anishinaabe, and Neutral People. We also acknowledge the enduring presence and deep traditional knowledge, laws, and philosophies of the Indigenous Peoples with whom we share this land today. We are all treaty people with a responsibility to honour all our relations.