Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Costa Rica-Intro and Day 1, May 07, 2012

I love it when trips come up unexpectedly. I had said earlier in the year that I probably would not be birding outside of the United States. I wasn't particularly happy with that proposition, but it looked like the way things were going to be. Then that changed. On March 30, Connie Sandlin, a birding friend from Dallas who is now living in Costa Rica, invited me to come to Costa Rica and go to Punta Leona with her and the Costa Rica birding club on May 11. At first I didn't think I could go, as I thought I needed to do a bird survey for Martin's current project. Then I found out that the survey was the week before. I looked at air fare and decided to do it.

I decided I would go a few days early and hit one of the excellent lodges. I had never been in Costa Rica and wanted to make the absolute best of the trip. Martin was not interested in going, as he had been there several times.  I did consult him and he strongly suggested Savegre Lodge, which is in the mountains southeast of San Jose. This is one of the best spots in the world to see Resplendent Quetzal, one of my top most wanted birds. There are a number of other excellent birds in this area. I contacted Costa Rica Gateway and got my arrangements under way. I set a date for Connie and her husband, Dick, to pick me up in San Jose, and started studying the birds.

I left San Antonio on May 6, arriving in San Jose in the evening. Costa Rica Gateway advised me it was not possible to go to Savegre that evening, as the road was a bit dangerous at night. I requested a 6AM pick up at the Courtyard. I took a cab from the airport, and settled in. The driver, Lenin, was very prompt. He spoke English, which I was very grateful for, as my Spanish is almost non-existent. We took off and made a few stops on the way to look for birds. Unfortunately, we did not see the White Hawk he had staked out lower down, but we were more successful higher up.

The main road up into the mountains is not suitable for birding. It is winding and full of traffic. Once we turned off for Savegre, we had more opportunities. The entrance road is about five miles long, dropping in elevation, so there are a variety of birds along the way. The first thing I saw just as we were making the turn, was the unmistakable silhouette of a Long-tailed Silky-flycatcher. A bit further down we heard a mixed flock calling and I found a Yellow-winged Vireo and a couple of Collared Redstarts. The road is a bit rough. If you are going on your own, you might consider renting a high clearance vehicle, though I did see some people driving normal cars.

There are a number of lodges and hotels along the road in, some of which look very nice. The photos of Savegre looked great and I was not disappointed in the least when we pulled in. Here is a link for their web site- I checked in and Lenin and I took my stuff to my room, which was lovely! Lenin left and I went down to the reception area and inquired about birding. The man at the front desk asked if I was interested in a guide. I asked the price, which was reasonable, and said yes. I was met about 15 minutes later by Melvin Fernandez. He was an absolutely fabulous guide! We arranged for some birding near the lodge, and then a trip for the following day. He asked me if I wanted to see the quetzals, and I said "Of course!"

Melvin got his truck and we took off. Not far from the lodge we stopped and he pointed out a hole in a tree, in a grove, not far off of the road. It was an active nest site. I could see two long feathers from the male's "tail", which is actually the upper coverts, sticking out of the nest hole. Melvin said that the male and female would switch places on the nest at 10:00 AM, which was only a few minutes away. He then pointed out that the female was sitting near the nest. Sure enough, the male stuck his head out of the nest hole, then flew, spectacularly, through the woods, to a perch, near the female. She flew to the hole and entered. Melvin said this switching occurred every two hours on the dot. I was dually impressed.

We birded further along the road, picking up more new species for me. A few Sooty-capped Bush-tanagers flew in and Melvin said "Look for a Ruddy Treerunner!" Sure enough, one flew in joining the bush-tanagers. They tend to travel together. Melvin spotted one of my most wanted birds, Spangle-cheeked Tanager, in a tree across the road. I love tangara tanagers and this one was particularly beautiful, and how can anyone not love that name? I added a Black-capped Flycatcher, an empid that is not difficult to ID, which was a big change from the ones in the states! Tufted Flycatchers were very common.  I found a baby Flame-colored Tanager, sitting on a branch waiting to be fed. The male came in, and was obliging, to both the baby and us.

Melvin showed me another quetzal nest, this one right next to the road, which also had a visible male on the nest. He had constructed a bamboo blind, to protect the birds. The male flew out of the nest and headed down the road. Melvin found him perched in a group of trees, closer to the road than the first male we had seen. He got his scope on him and I was very happy to get excellent looks. A car with a couple for the states stopped and we shared the bird with them, then two women stopped and looked, too. Melvin then heard a Golden-browed Chloraphonia, which we all saw. It was getting to be lunch time, so we went back to the lodge.

Just as we pulled in, it started to rain a bit. Melvin said we could do a couple of hours birding after lunch, around the lodge grounds. We arranged to meet in about an hour. I ate my first meal of the stay at the lodge restaurant. The food was great! They have a trout farm on site and the fish I had was incredible. By the time I finished, the rain was really heavy. Of course, my rain jacket was up the hill, in my cabin. I watched the Magnificent Hummingbirds, which swarm the feeders by the restaurant, hoping for a respite, but the rain only got heavier. I covered my camera with my hat, and slogged back to my room.

The phone rang and it was Melvin. He suggested instead of birding that afternoon, we could add a couple of hours on to our birding in the morning, starting at 5AM, instead of 7AM. I agreed that was a much better idea. I sat on the porch and did a bit of knitting with my binoculars nearby, but the sound of the rain was a bit soporific, and I soon was asleep in the bed by the window. I woke up two hours later and it was still raining, though it had lightened up. I decided to walk up the hill to the trails. I had almost gotten to the trail heads, when the sky opened up again. Luckily, I had on my rain jacket, but my jeans were totally soaked by the time I got back. I changed, and sat on the porch again. This was actually better, as a mixed flock came in and I spotted another of my target birds, Flame-throated Warbler. Sulphur-winged Parakeets flew by. Despite the rain, it was a lovely afternoon.

Here are my photos for the day-

Bird list for the day-
Tricolored Heron
Cattle Egret
Black Vulture
Turkey Vulture
Swallow-tailed Kite
Red-tailed Hawk
Rock Pigeon
Ruddy Pigeon
White-winged Dove
Sulphur-winged Parakeet
White-throated Mountain-Gem
Magnificent Hummingbird
Volcano Hummingbird
Resplendent Quetzal
Blue-crowned Motmot
Acorn Woodpecker
Ruddy Treerunner
Mountain Elaenia
Tufted Flycatcher
Black-capped Flycatcher
Boat-billed Flycatcher
Tropical Kingbird
Yellow-winged Vireo
Blue-and-white Swallow
Gray-breasted Wood-Wren
Black-billed Nightingale-Thrush
Sooty Thrush
Clay-colored Thrush
Long-tailed Silky-flycatcher
Flame-throated Warbler
Collared Redstart
Sooty-capped Bush-Tanager
Blue-gray Tanager
Spangle-cheeked Tanager
Yellow-faced Grassquit
Slaty Flowerpiercer
Yellow-thighed Finch
Rufous-collared Sparrow
Flame-colored Tanager
Great-tailed Grackle
Elegant Euphonia
Golden-browed Chlorophonia
Yellow-bellied Siskin

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