LUTMAN'S COSTA RICA 2005 25TH ANNIVERSARY BIRDING TRIP

 

Note: Sharon's notes are in {brackets}. Information added to the original reports will be in red.

 

Saturday, February 5, 2005. Day 0 of 18. SAN JOSE TO SAN JOSE.

The alarm goes off at 6am and I think, "I don't know if I can do this world bird traveling for twenty more years." Mildly depressing but there's work to do.

We packed almost everything last night, so we just top off our luggage, two big suitcases to check and three carry-ons. One last tussle with our cat Boomer before Damon, our next-door neighbor and chauffeur, knocks on our door. We pile all the luggage into the back of his vehicle and we're off, waving goodbye to his wife Jen. We have orders from Jen for a melange of spices called "bomba" and from Damon to bring back pictures of the Resplendent Quetzal, one of our top target birds.

Damon drops us off at the AA terminal at San Jose Int'l, where we check in, get rid of our two big cases, get our boarding passes (we have to get the Dallas-to-Costa Rica boarding pass in Dallas, the check-in lady says), pass security and head on down to gate A10.

While we're waiting we talk with a wheel chair lady, holding a small case on her lap. There is a Toy Pomeranian sticking its little head out of the partially zipped open top. Looks like great company for each other. And what big eyes the little Pom has, shuffling from his left to his right front foot and back, licking his lips.

We take off and spend some time reviewing the Costa Rican birds that we expect to see at Villa Lapas (Lapas, we learn later, means Macaw), near the town of Jaco (say HOCK-oh).

The plane is on time in Dallas, but when we get to our gate and the check-in lady looks at our paperwork, she says, "The flight is oversold. We'll call your name later. We're asking for volunteers to not fly today, do you want to volunteer?" AS IF. I tell Sharon, who fires off about four questions at me in staccato fashion, goes up to the desk and makes herself a pest (in a good way), till the lady finally gets us on the plane, but not sitting together. {I don't know what it is that I do differently, but when I tell her we don't have to have seats together, she gets a very relieved look on her face and finds us seats. Whew!}

We each sit next to interesting couples and pass the 3.5-hour trip to Costa Rica talking, reading, napping, polishing off a surprisingly good pot roast dinner, making it to San Jose about 930pm.

We patiently wait through all the lines, through emigration, getting our big bags, customs, and out into the waiting world. We see a sign among about 100 that says, "MR. BOB LUTMAN," through a big glass wall. Catching the fellow's eye, I motion that I'm him and he's me.

When we leave the glassed-in area, we pass through a throng of several hundred people pressed in close (Sharon says, "Look out, they may try to pick your pocket." Heck I may try to pick theirs), offering taxis, hotels and more, but we connect with Moises, our driver, load up and head out.

It's about a half-hour drive through some upscale-slum-type neighborhoods before we come to a walled, gated, guarded HOTEL BOUGAINVILLEA, which looks very inviting. We enter, Moises sets out our luggage, we check in and are up in our room at about 1030 pm. The room is very nice, with two queen beds, TV, air conditioning, a door to a balcony overlooking the gardens. The weather is cool enough that I want a jacket or sweater, and that really surprises me. Good sleeping weather.

We've made it. We're here. Out-BIRDING-standing!

We leave a wakeup call for 530am (330am in California, but don't think about that), and settle in for the night. I dreamed our house burned down a few nights ago, and I think, "Well, if it happens now, we won't be IN it."

Birding Summary:
Life Birds Today: 0
Trip Birds Today: 0

NOTE: I estimate that we might see 300-400 species, of which 100 would be life birds, Sharon thinks 120. The statistics on this sort of thing, the scorecard, the batting average - is that MOST of the time in past trips, I have underestimated the number we actually have seen, but once or twice, I overestimated a little. Which will it be? We're going to have a great time finding out.

 

Sunday, February 6, 2005. Day 1 of 18. FIRST BIRD. TRANSFER TO VILLA LAPAS.

BOUGAINVILLEA

Breakfast is at 7am, Moises will pick us up at 8am, and it's 6am. We can do an hour of birding. We hear a rooster, but Sharon thinks it's some other bird. {Notice how Bob states definitively that it is a rooster, I don't know what it was but I have never heard any chicken sound like that.} You always want to have a hopeful partner when you're birding.

The gardens are beautiful and the weather is perfect.

Gardens at Bougainville Hotel

NOTE: When we see a bird for the first time on this trip, but we HAVE seen it before, it will be in Initial Caps (a "trip bird" in our lingo, e.g. Clay-Colored Robin). If we have NEVER seen it before, it will be in ALL CAPS (e.g. ANDEAN CONDOR), indicating that it is what we call a life bird, or "lifer." If we've seen it before in these reports, I'll use all lower case letters (e.g. clay-colored robin).

Our first bird is a Brown Jay in a fruit tree, calling raucously during short flights. There are many Clay-Colored Robins, which we learn is Costa Rica's national bird. {We also learn that now they call it the Clay-Colored Thrush} Then a flyover of twenty parrots we can't ID. Likely migrating Carolina Parakeets (wink). {For those of you who are not birders that bird is extinct.}

RUFOUS-TAILED HUMMINGBIRD is next, and is our first life bird of the trip, Number 1606 on our world life list. There are just short of 10,000 bird species in the world. In all birding history, the person who has seen the most world birds had notched about 8500, and was killed in a car accident in Madagascar, I think it was, on a birding trip. Her first name, aptly, was Phoebe, and she was very famous for being talented, friendly, patient, thorough and from St. Louis, the place as a wee lad that I'd tell my aunts where I got my brown eyes, when they'd ask.

The next hour or so in the gardens brings WHITE-EARED GROUND SPARROW, House Wren (migrated from North America, which I'll indicate with an 'm' in parentheses if I can remember), Blue-crowned Motmot, female Wilson's Warbler (m), RUFOUS-COLLARED SPARROW, Bronzed Cowbird, Grayish Saltator, Inca Dove and HOFFMAN'S WOODPECKER.

We go in for our free buffet breakfast (well, included in the cost of the room), and watch a host of clay-colored robins chase away a Blue-Gray Tanager, who tries to eat some of the fruit put out by the hotel. The tanager had apparently not bought the room with-breakfast.

THE RIDE TO VILLA LAPAS

Moises picks us up right at 8am, and we head out. He quickly points out a Great-tailed Grackle. We ask him to stop in San Jose somewhere he thinks they might have the combo spice package next door neighbor Jen calls "bomba", but he hasn't heard of it (He says that's the term they use for explosive device). We keep trying and he makes one stop but with no luck.

The highway is smooth, wide and high speed. He comes to a toll booth before entering Highway 1 (I think), and does a slick one-handed exchange with the operator. He's holding the money, the operator's holding the receipt and using just one hand each, they swap objects. Pretty cool.

We get miscellaneous white egrets just after the toll booth. We head up over the eastern side of the mountain range that runs the backbone of Costa Rica, from NW to SE. There is lots of country to see and it's fun.

Going down the other side is an adventure as a wide-sweeping car almost hits the big bus in front of us, and then us. Wild. My seat belt cinches tighter, I discover.

We come to Rio Tarcoles and Moises drives over the bridge, then parks. He gets out and starts walking back toward the river so we do too, collecting our first SCARLET MACAWS doing their flyover. On the way we get Black Vulture, Little Blue Heron, Ruddy Ground-Dove, some unidentified swallows, a NORTHERN JACANA. Then we come to the water, and see why he brought us back. There are huge crocs in the mud beside the river, and in the river. All acting lazy in the heat of the day ("Come on down, folks"). It was cool and nice in San Jose, but it's hot and sticky here.

That's a Croc

We continue on, noting that most of the cattle are the Brahma variety, which I believe tolerates heat well.

We arrive at the gravel road turnoff to Villa Lapas, go in about a mile, up a rise, then make a sharp right turn, followed by steep descent down to the villa. It is very clean and neat, with huge trees scattered around the grounds. I should more accurately say there are buildings scatterered among the huge trees.

We bid goodbye to Moises, and Fernando carries most of our luggage to our room, with us tagging along behind, after we check in and get our semi-permanent wrist-bands, indicating that we get everything free. Well three meals, drinks, and lodging. We're about a hundred yards up the brick-lined road, in a two-story bungalow on the left. A row of rooms sits on our right, with grass lawn beyond that, and the river beyond that.

AT VILLA LAPAS

We unpack a bit, then because we're actually 10 years old, we rig for birding and head out the door. Out on the grounds, walking the river, we get Great Kiskadee, a pair of beautiful GOLDEN-HOODED TANAGERS, and a pair of GRAY-HEADED FLYCATCHERS tending a nest high in a thorny tree, between the grass and the river.

Golden-hooded Tanager (Internet)

We get Rose-Breasted Grosbeak (m) and Social Flycatcher, then a hummingbird with a blue-black rump, purplish bronze color. It's a STEELY-VENTED HUMMINGBIRD, and I like this because I had estimated a zero chance of getting it here. You know engineers and their estimates. A little like the weatherman.

We meet a friendly young couple from England - Lee and Rachel, who are going on an afternoon birding river boat trip. We will check with them later to see if it was worth it.

There are two dining areas, one on each side of the river, with a bridge walkway connecting the two sides. Lunch is on this side,

Villa Lapas Lunch

but we can hear music coming from across the river. We cross over, find the action and watch a colorful dance troupe entertaining a huge weekend crowd. They're lots of fun.

We come back over to "our side" and see four cute (a word I've never used before with this mammal) Stripe-headed Bats squabbling under the shade of a palm leaf. We get Palm Tanager, which I first mis-identify to Sharon as Blue-Gray Tanager. She sets me straight. Sharon gets another golden-hooded tanager taking a dust bath out by the river. What a combination of turquoise, yellow and black. And dust, of course, to set it all off

Sharon sees a Western Tanager (m) across the river, but I don't get it.

Our rule is that to be a life bird, we both have to see it and agree on its identification. To qualify as a "trip bird," only one person has to see it. So the western tanager is a trip bird for us

A Social Flycatcher flashes its thin, bright red splash on the top of the crown, a feature that's usually hidden. A Yellow Warbler (m), with its cool red chest streaks works the area between the grass and the river. Six White Ibises fly up the river.

Sharon likes to keep track of the birds we see on nests, so to this point, those would be great kiskadee, gray-headed flycatcher and palm tanager.

Following the brick-lined road up, past our room, and to the end, then around a gate, one comes to a hanging, walking-bridge which crosses the river. We make our way over, as it swings and sways, scaring the beewhatsis out of Sharon. She never did think much of Sammy Kaye.

We make our way about two-thirds of the way around the loop that Fernando, our luggage man and general talented utility man here at the villa, drew for us. A map, he made, is what I'm trying to say. We see quite a few birds, but can't identify any new ones.

STEVEN EASLEY, NUMBER ONE BIRD GUIDE

Before we came over, I asked out CRGateway contact, Sonia Nunez, about hiring bird guides, and she strongly recommended Kevin or Steven Easley. It turned out that Steven is already in the area, guiding one other birder, and he will guide us a half-day for $50 total. We are to meet him at 230 pm, at the reception center.

We make our way back to our room, pick up all the stuff we want to have with us, go down to reception, and I spot two guys watching the hummingbird feeders set out by the villa. I walk up and say, "Is one of you Steven?" And Steven says yes, he is.

He's about six feet two, slender, good looking, with a twinkle in his eye, and an Oklahoma University/Nike baseball cap on. His birding client is Bart Brown, and we meet all around. Bart lives in Dallas, is in the Arabian horse-raising business, and flies to all parts of the world for short 3-4 day trips when the mood strikes him, to pick up new birds.

If you ever met someone you instantly liked, then you know Steven already. Wry sense of humor, knows every bird, every call, every song in Costa Rica, not to mention Kenya, Africa. But I'll tell you about that later.

He's going on the Figure Eight Trail in Carara National Park this afternoon, and we pile into his Ford Explorer-type vehicle, though I can't tell you what it was. {Toyota, but I don't know either which exact one.} Oh now I remember, it was gray. Steve's driving, Bart's shotgun, I'm behind Steve and Sharon's behind Bart.

CARARA NATIONAL PARK, FIGURE EIGHT TRAIL

We go to the ticket center, and I buy tickets for Sharon and me at $8 a pop. Most establishments will work in either dollars or colones, the local currency. $60 at the airport brought me 24,900 colones, a rate of about 400 colones per dollar, but the rate if you're not at the mercy of the location is about 466 per dollar.

We double back and Steve parks off the road. In we go, beginning our first guided birding. I am about to explode, I'm so excited. But of course, in true Lutman/Missouri fashion, I can't let on... "YEEEE-HAH!" Sorry, I panicked.

We pass the orange-collared manakin lek, where the males display to each other and to the females, but there is no activity here. There is extreme background noise, and Steve says, "This is the year of the cicada." "What did you say?"

We get Dot-winged Antwren, as Steve whips out his laser pointer, lays the red dot on a branch of a palm, and says, "Just four inches to the left of the dot and about two feet behind." Wow, perfect.

Memo to Self: Self, get two laser pointers. You can't believe how difficult it is to see a bird through four layers of thick brush, trying to tell your partner where you see the dang bird.

See that biggest red bush?
Yes.
See the white tree behind that, a little to the right of the middle?
Yes.
See the fork about eight feet up the tree?
Yes.
Now go up the left fork to the knob.
What color was that bush?
Et-dang-cetera.

Female Slaty-tailed Trogon in Steve's Leica scope. Spectacular. Steve whips out his iPod, on which he has stored all the forest birds in Costa Rica apparently, plus 1500 hard rock, classic rock and reggae songs which he claims to know the words of every one. I believe him. I like the way he calls Bart "the Bartmeister" sometimes.

He broadcasts the call of one of our top birds. It answers, and it doesn't take him long to get us the BAIRD'S TROGON. "White around the eye, yellow bill," Steve says. Hermosa!

CHESTNUT-BACKED ANTBIRD in the understory, aided by the laser pointer method. Scarlet macaws call behind us. Nice female DARK-HOODED ANTSHRIKE while Steve is trying to get us on a plain xenops, unsuccessfully.

Then a great little bird, the stubtail spadebill, but it's uncooperative, high-tailing it (or stub-tailing it) to Dodge before we can get him. You can't win 'em all.

Wedge-billed Woodcreeper, then COCOA WOODCREEPER, followed by a great scope look at a Sulfur-Rumped Flycatcher. As we're walking along, Steve suddenly shushes us and points to our right. A GREAT TINAMOU is just ambling along, in his own world, a very nice bird. A GRAY-CHESTED DOVE calls, but we can't see it. We have to mark this one "heard only."

When we first started birding in 1995, our rule was that we had to see a bird to count it. But as we met first class birders, and read about the world class ones, they all count hearing the bird too. Copy only the best! That's what Bill Gates and I have as our mottos. He may have more money than I, but I have more mottos. "Get a lot when you're young," for example, a reference to real estate, apparently.

Sharon sees an Ovenbird (m), the "teacher, Teacher, TEACHER" calling bird we first saw in southern Missouri on a great trip back there in 1999. Steve gets us RUDDY-TAILED FLYCATCHER, then Short-billed Pigeon, which is a life bird for Bart, but not for us. WHITE-COLLARED SWIFTS glide back and forth high above the tallest trees.

Steve spots and then fills his scope with a great little WHITE-WHISKERED PUFFBIRD, and I just love that name. I get a couple of photos through Steve's scope.

We finally get the PLAIN XENOPS, feeding its young. Steve has arranged the day so we wind up at a late-afternoon, bird bathing pool. "The quieter we are the more birds we'll see."

It gets darker, especially down in this area, but we get great birds. A female Red-capped Manakin is first, followed by a chestnut-backed antbird. Then we get wonderful views of several beautiful male BLUE-CROWNED MANAKINS. Wow. Steve scouts around a little and finds a hummingbird nest with a tiny chick. He figures it's a BLUE-THROATED GOLDENTAIL. A blue-crowned manakin female comes in to the pool, after which Bart gets us on a SLATY ANTWREN by the bridge just before the pool. A Chestnut-sided Warbler (m) drops by as Howler Monkeys start up their powerful roar somewhere nearby. But not too near.

We get STREAK-CHESTED ANTPITTA. As you watch the bird, its little belly inflates, then deflates very slowly, like a balloon that can't make up its mind whether to go ahead and fill. Steve says that's how it breathes. Cool and very cute in a bird sort of way, one of the best sorts of ways. {The bird book says that the bird may be scaring up prey when it puffs its chest and flicks its wings in that way.} We wind up and head out to the highway.

Near the car we get a White-faced (Capucin) Monkey in a big clearing, crossing above us. CHESTNUT-MANDIBLED TOUCANS call from across the road, but we have to mark them "heard only." They are common enough that we should be able to see them in the next day or two, when we'll mark them as upgrades. Knock on wood.

We get back to the villa, and make arrangements for Steve and Bart to pick us up tomorrow morning, when we will go on the boat ride to get mangrove "specialties," as well as shorebirds, when the river passes near a beach.

SUPERBOWL

Hot dog! There is a big-screen TV, it's midway in the first quarter and there is no score. How cool is this? I watch till just before the half, while Sharon goes back to the room for a shower. The left half of the room is a group from Philadelphia and the right half is for New England. I'm sitting on the New England side, mostly because that's the only side with empty seats. There is lively finger-pointing back and forth with each big play and score.

Sharon gets back about midway through the second quarter. We leave a little before halftime, then have dinner as Paul McCartney earns his 12 or 16 million or whatever. But he's not having as much fun as we are. We come back and the third quarter has just started. We watch till about five minutes left, then go back to our room to ease down and get ready for tomorrow.

As much as I love football, birding is better. As much as I love SharonÉ no, NO, wait!!

Birding Summary:
Trip Birds Today: 57 (Total species seen today)
Life Birds Today: 24 (Of the trip birds, the ones we've never seen or heard before)

Mammals: Stripe-Headed Bat, Howler Monkey (heard only)

Reptiles: Crocodile

Best Birds Today: Baird's Trogon, White-Whiskered Puffbird, Blue-Crowned Manakin.

 

Monday, February 7, 2005. Day 2 of 18. Rollin' on the River.

CORRECTIONS

I misspelled "our" as "out" in Report Number 1. No, I didn't ask OUT tour arranger Sonia Nunez. Stooped spell checker.

BOATRIDE

The single AA battery connection in the alarm clock decides to act up, and the alarm never fires. We sleep in, tired from yesterday's birding, waking up an hour later than we intended. Not too worried though, because Steven said they'd pick us up between 8 and 9.

We dress for the morning river trip and plan to bird an hour, then have breakfast before our pickup, but just as we open the door, up drives our guide Steven Easley and his other birder, Bart Brown. They are earlier than we expected by about an hour. If they had come five minutes later, we'd have been out on a trail somewhere. But it all works out - one of those good days, where things go right. Steven left a message at the front desk, but when we checked, the person we asked said we didn't have any.

We drive out the lodge road to the gravel road, then to the highway, straight across it to the entry road to the little village of Tarcol and on to the boat launch. We are early, so Steve takes us over to a field with small orchard-like trees, surrounded by much larger ones.

But before going to that field, we get a Neotropic Cormorant flyover and many MANGROVE SWALLOWS, working the river. A Great Blue Heron across the river, plus a Tricolored Heron. A Green Kingfisher zips across the water, and a Spotted Sandpiper bobs his butt.

Over at the field, we get a Cinnamon Becard, then a fantastic black-with-red-slash CHERRIE'S TANAGER

 

Cherrie's Tanager (Internet)

fighting with a palm tanager, followed by a Baltimore Oriole, whose bright colors fit nicely in the tropics. Melodious Blackbirds sing, then we get a female ROSE-THROATED BECARD, but the female never has the rosy throat, nor does the male in this off-season. Steven gets us on a fantastic TURQUOISE-BROWED MOTMOT high in a tree, and then it's time for the boatride. The picture below was actually taken later in the day.

Turquoise-browed Motmot

We load in and there are perhaps ten passengers, plus the driver, his assistant, and Steven. Yellow-crowned Night-heron is on the bank, along with a Common Baselisk Lizard, affectionately known as the Jesus Christ lizard, because not only can it walk on two legs, but it scoots across small bits of water without sinking.

The Mangrove Boat

Northern Rough-wing as well as Barn Swallows hawk for insects overhead. A Snowy Egret, with its black legs and yellow feet walks the shallows, looking for minnows. A Whimbrel is on the shore. I always call it the Michigan bird, because its head stripes remind me of the University of Michigan football helmets.

A single Woodstork is perched on the highest snag of a tall tree on our left. A wonderful Roseate Spoonbill and a Black-necked Stilt drift by on the right. Then we come to an outrageous find, several BOAT-BILLED HERONS, named for their bills, which seem as big as, well, you can guess.

A Zone-tailed Hawk glides overhead, and it looks like a Black Vulture, with its wings held flat, but has white bars on its tail. An Anhinga opens its wings to dry and a couple of Red-winged Blackbirds fly over. We enter a narrow channel to see what we can get, and a Green Heron is first, followed by a half-dozen Groove-billed Anis. Several Gray-breasted Martins perch high. A bare-throated tiger-heron watches us drift by, then Bart IDs a female Ruby-throated Hummingbird. A rufous-tailed hummer is spotted right after that.

We get a Belted Kingfisher as we back out of the slough, then we get our first of several MANGROVE BLACKHAWKS, a taxonomic split from the Common Blackhawk. We get two Ospreys, one flying and one perched. Sharon thinks she sees a mangrove blackhawk land on a nest.

A Semi-palmated Plover walks the bank, and Sharon "shows me" a Prothonotary Warbler (m), maybe down here from Missouri. A MANGROVE WARBLER is a life bird for us, just before we come to a second small slough. A Red-billed Pigeon sits below and to the left of the warbler. A Tropical Pewee is perched near the beginning of a third slough.

We get a great little black and yellow Common Tody-flycatcher as we are trying our best for mangrove hummingbird, one of only six birds that are in Costa Rica and no other country - Costa Rican endemics. {I remember our first look at the common Tody-flycatcher was at the Belize City Zoo on our trip to Belize. If the bird is free and not actually OF the zoo, then we count it as a wild bird. Many birds will visit the zoo for the water and food there.}

We hear a Rufous-browed Pepper-shrike. We see crab holes and someone says there are many crab-eating raccoons here, cousins to the roof-destroying type in our San Jose, California neighborhood. Sharon sees the racoons, but I don't.

We get a female American Redstart (m), then later a male. We hear the call of a BRIGHT-RUMPED ATTILA, but can't spot him. Steve points out a nice Mangrove Cuckoo, a bird Sharon and I chased down in the Florida Keys in 2000.

A pair of ORANGE-FRONTED PARAKEETS are next. The "fronted" always refers to the forehead, not the chest as I first thought some time ago.

We get great looks at a PYGMY KINGFISHER. It is so tiny, and I want to see it catch a snack. A Magnificent Frigatebird flies high, in the distance. We are in as far as we're going, and we turn around.

The assistant offers drinks to everyone. I take a pina colada and Sharon gets some kind of tropical fruit slurry. Very refreshing, non-alcoholic. A Ringed Kingfisher eyes the water as we pass.

Steve points out a winter edition of a Black-bellied Plover. We're close to the beach, so the driver drives the boat right into the sand. The assistant pulls it up a little and we all climb out to cross the sand strip for the coast. Bart wants some shorebirds.

Shorebirding is not our forte, but we get Brown Pelican, Ruddy Turnstone, Wilson's Plover, Willet, Laughing Gull, Elegant Tern, Sandwich Tern, Royal Tern, Sanderling and Black Skimmers in one huge group, with the wind ruffling their feathers. Steven and Bart do the heavy duty ID work on this group.

KENYA GO TO AFRICA?

Steve is a great guy. He tells us that he was born in Arkansas (then demonstrates his exaggerated drawl), then his family moved to Michigan, Missouri and Tennessee, where he began college in Chattanooga, with possibly another state or two mixed in there. He said college wasn't his thing, so he bugged out after his freshman year and went to Kenya! He lived there for five years from 2000 to 2005, leading bird tours down there for his brother Kevin, who owns CRGateway, the company we went through to arrange this Costa Rica tour.

He goes on to talk about Kenya birding, and that part of me that gets excited about new places goes flying. In the next thirty minutes Sharon and I change our next big destination to that country. We'll do it in July 2006 or 2007. Two weeks and we'll insist that Steven will be one of the guides. He says that he definitely will.

Our boat tour ends, and Steve drives us back to Villa Lapas. We finalize our tentative arrangement to hire him for all day tomorrow.

As we make our way to lunch, we hear a 'zzzzzzzzzip' sound, turn and realize that they are using the zip line. That's a metal cable that is attached between an anchor point in a huge tree right here, and one way up the mountain, in a tree that's out of sight. Pretty cool. The line runs right along the stream beside the dining room. {People get into harnesses, hook onto the metal cable and slide down at high speed in the trees. When they get to where we see them, they slow down and a guide slides out on the cable and pulls them up to the platform where they get off. Cool, but we don't do it, Whew!}

Zip It Good

We go out for some late afternoon birding on the local Villa Lapas trails, and at the end, as we're finding our way back to the buildings, a pair of Pauraques nearly fly right into Sharon in the almost-total-darkness. I have conveniently gotten behind her for the return trip through the forest. YOU GO, SHARON! They sit right on the trail, then in a flurry of butterfly-like activity fly up, all around, then back down. {These are night-flying birds related to the Whip-Poor-Will. They sleep during the day, often on the ground in leaves where they just look like a pile of leaves. When this one first flew up in front of me, I thought at first that it was a large frog hopping away from me, but then it flew and we both yelled "Night-jar"}

We make it back to our room, unload our birding stuff, and go down to dinner. Back in our room, I do my usual evening thing of transcribing the day's digital voice recording and the birds we've seen, into the computer. And here are the totals.

Birding Summary:
Trip Birds: Today 60, Entire Trip 116.
Life Birds: Today 10, Entire Trip 34.

Best Birds: Cherrie's Tanager, Turquoise-browed Motmot, American Pygmy Kingfisher

Mammals: Variegated Squirrel

Reptiles: Common Baselisk Lizard

 

Tuesday, February 8, 2005. Day 3 of 18. Take It Easley.

The alarm is off at 6 and we get a great bird with a rusty cheek and crown and a white supercilium while walking to breakfast. It's a RUFOUS-CAPPED WARBLER.

We polish off the first meal of the day, then meet Steven. We get White-tipped Dove driving up the entry road, then we turn right, heading away from the highway, up, up the hill. We pass a path taking off to the left and downhill and Steven pulls over to the left, off the road and parks.

Steve's gets us a nice slaty-tailed trogon, then he listens. He says he hears long-tailed manakin (our target bird) and a rufous-breasted wren. We walk down the path a bit, with Steven calling occasionally, then listening. "He's close," says Steven. He sets the scope down and calls, checking with his binoculars. He stops, moves the scope, then says the magic, "LONG-TAILED MANAKIN." I don't recall who goes first, but Sharon and I each get great looks at this remarkable bird, sure to be one of the most beautiful of our trip. Double-u Oh Double-u.

Long-tailed Manakin (Internet). Our view was better.

As we're heading back up the hill, we get a BUFF-THROATED SALTATOR and a Tennessee Warbler (m).

Steven turns around and drives us to another location he's familiar with, heading downhill, then around a sharp left curve and parking.

He hears a rufous-and-white wren, and while trying to get us that, we get a female Violaceous Trogon and a common tody-flycatcher. A female dusky antbird follows, then a cool female hummingbird called CANIVET'S EMERALD (a taxonomic split from Forktail Emerald) while chasing a white-winged becard unsuccessfully. White-throated Hermit (hummingbird) follows, then another dusky antbird.

This location is really buzzing. A couple of gray-breasted martins pass over, then Steven gets us a Brown-crested Flycatcher, a Boat-billed Flycatcher and a RUFOUS-NAPED WREN. Fantastic. A Scrub Euphonia flies over, then we get a Tropical Kingbird and a Yellow-bellied Flycatcher. This little flycatcher MIGHT be the exact one Sharon and I saw and heard as a "lifer" in Minnes

ta or Wisconsin last spring. This is a little like saying, "Oh, you're from New York. Hey, do you know Wilbert Dawkins?" CARARA NP: THE RIVER TRAIL

We drive to Carara National Park and buy three tickets at eight dollars each. Steven drives down to the parking area near the beginning of the River Trail, whereas the other day we birded the Figure Eight Trail.

A blue-throated goldentail (hummer) is first, great looks through the scope, and what we call an "upgrade."

An upgrade is a MUCH better view of a bird than we ever had, or a visual sighting where we only heard the bird previously.

A Northern Waterthrush bobs his butt on the trail, then we get a black-hooded antshrike. We can hear a Long-billed Gnatwren calling and get fleeting glimpses.

We meet up with another birding group, being led by a friend of Steven's. They swap hot bird location information. The other guy isn't as good as Steven, and as the other group watches the interaction, one of the fellows from Denmark comes over to Steven and shows him a great drawing he has just done of one of the birds they've seen and their guide can't quite identify. Steven names the bird after talking with the fellow a little.

We split from that group and Sharon whispers, "We've got the best guide." And we do.

We get a BAND-TAILED BARBTHROAT, then a Northern Bentbill in the scope, another upgrade. White-shouldered Tanager and a very nice Yellow-throated Euphonia follows.

You gotta love the little euphonias, which live way, way up, high in the highest trees, with their fabulous colors and tiny short tails. A typical one is yellow on the bottom, dark blue on top, with a bright yellow "headlight," you might call the forehead. {And there are 4 or 5 of them, all VERY similar and hard to identify even if they weren't 100 feet up in the tree top with you breaking your neck to try to see them. Warbler neck we call it and your neck creaks when you finally look back down again.}

A great tinamou calls, but is blown away by a troop of howler monkeys. A beautiful ORANGE-COLLARED MANAKIN

Orange-collared Manakin (Internet)

is slightly spectacular in the scope, but oh how we'd like to see him snapping, whirring and jumping on the lek. Someday.

A Hoffman's Two-toed Sloth moves briskly around as we pass. Just kidding about the briskly part, acourse.

The birds are "falling" one at a time, as Steven is nailing them all. A black-winged antwren, a white-shouldered tanager and another plain xenops. A Spiny-tailed Iguana eyes us, and Steven says it's not a true iguana, scientifically speaking.

A female VARIABLE SEEDEATER perches on tall tall grass, about head high and about four feet away. The grass stalks bend and sway as she moves from near the top of one blade to another. Great picture. We can make out the scales of a SCALY-BREASTED HUMMINGBIRD.

Another blue-throated goldentail hummingbird shows in the scope nicely. A Coati mundi makes his way and Steven says it's a White-nosed Coati.

We see a Gray-chested Dove and Steven says this bird may be split in the future. If it is, this one will be called Rufous-naped Dove, representing the Pacific side of the mountain range. The Caribbean version will have some other name, I presume, or maybe retain the original.

A brilliant Summer Tanager (m) shows its full red color and stands out in the forest. We see more White-faced, or Capucin Monkeys, and I get a photo of a couple of them baring their teeth, but slightly out of focus. They look very mean, and I wouldn't wanna mess with either of them.

White-faced Monkeys

We get a wren with rufous color on its breast, and it is appropriately a RUFOUS-BREASTED WREN.

ECUADOR?

We talk of other places, Ecuador among them, and Steven says if we want to see spectacular hummingbirds, his brother Kevin can set us up with "the only guide" Steven says he'd want there, one Juan Carlos Kavachi, though I'm not sure of the spelling of the last name.

But back to the present.

The long-tailed hermit (hummer) has been split taxonomically. The other one is in South America, and the one here is now called WESTERN LONG-TAILED HERMIT.

We get a female scrub euphonia, then a buff-throated saltator in the secropia tree. One of the most outrageously painted little birds you can see is the Red-legged Honeycreeper, and we get one. Sharon spots a Kentucky Warbler (m) on the ground. We get a Streaked Flycatcher, then a Lesser Greenlet. Birds everywhere!

TROPICAL GNATCATCHER is next, followed by STRIPE-THROATED HERMIT, a hummingbird formerly called little hermit.

There are some birds that you can tell by their name. Like the woman who once asked Sharon, "What's that black bird with the red wings?" Sharon said, "You mean the red-winged blackbird?" And the lady said, "Yes, that's the one, what is the name of that bird."

Who's on first?

A great Fantail Lizard waits in freeze frame, for Steven to name him. A STREAK-HEADED WOODCREEPER is the most common such bird in Costa Rica, says Steven.

That's it for the morning. Steven drives us back for a mid-day break in his Toyota. He'll pick us up again at 230pm.

We have lunch, then take a swim. The water's not heated and feels icy and cold in the shade, but fantastic in the sunny parts.

Cool It

Steven picks us up about 230pm and it's still quite warm.

We're headed into the mangroves around the village of Tarcol. A female Painted Bunting (m) greets us after Steven parks and we begin walking across the dry, dusty, barren field. He calls it the "death march" and laughs.

He realizes he forgot something and we wait a few minutes, picking up a rusty Squirrel Cuckoo running through the branches above, with his long tail trailing behind.

Steven is back, breathing hard and using his first finger to remove the sweat from his forehead, like the windshield wiper of a bus, but with only one hard swipe straight across.

We hear MANGROVE VIREO, but don't get to see it. An Orchard Oriole is next, then a NORTHERN SCRUB FLYCATCHER.

A female american redstart gets our attention, as we continue through the mangrove forest, but not getting many birds, as the heat is keeping them quiet it seems. Steven says it's hit or miss as to how the bird activity is in the afternoon, and we have definitely missed, so far anyway

I don't know if he had this bird's roost location pegged or not, but he gets us a great scope view of a lesser nighthawk.

We make our way to another location, and get a great bird, a CRANE HAWK. This a few minutes after I was trailing behind Sharon and Steven and saw and misidentified a mangrove Blackhawk as a crane hawk. I panicked. Steve says not to scare him like that. Excellent.

Then we get one of our top objectives of this area, a female MANGROVE HUMMINGBIRD. We had hoped for one on the river ride yesterday, but missed. It is one of only three Costa Rica MAINLAND endemics. {The other three endemics being on an offshore island.}

A little Blue-black Grassquit reminds us of the time in Trinidad when we saw one pop up, do a sort of twirl or flip, then land in the exact take-off spot. This move is their claim to fame. Next is a great view and photos of a turquoise-browed motmot (see above), followed by a view of a Lineated Woodpecker.

As we continue, Steven asks if we've seen Black-and-White Owl. We haven't, so he tells us to ask our driver (when we leave Villa Lapas to go to Monte Verde), to take a small detour into the town of Ortina, go to the park in the center of town, find the big circle in the center of the park, find the huge fig tree, and find the pair of owls that are "always" there. And if we can't find it, ask the ice cream man. And buy some ice cream from him.

The mangroves are done and we head back. Steven says he has one more stop for us, and drives past the Villa Lapas turnoff, heading up the hill, past the long-tailed manakin path, higher and higher. We finally stop in a car park at the top, and go across to a spectacular lookout over a huge forest valley. The sun is beginning to set to our right.

With Steven Easley

We relax, replaying our great day. I check out Steven's Swarovski scope and tripod. I ask him about them, and he says, "It's all beat up. Get one of the new ones, they're lighter. Get the 80 mm, not that 60 mm crap." And I say, "What about the tripod? Wait, let me get this on the voice recorder." I turn it on and point it toward him. "OK, " I say. "Is it on?" he asks. I say yes. He leans over it like it's a microphone and instead of saying, "Stay away from the Gitzo head. You want a Manfraddo head, distributed by Bogen, and a 20-60 zoom eyepiece," he SINGS the first five words of a great Eagles tune, "Welcome to the Hotel California." Sharon and I crack up.

Suddenly two chestnut-mandibled toucans fly in. Spectacular colors in that warm late afternoon sun. Wow. All three of us are knocked out.

Chestnut-mandibled Toucan

Then, to top it off, a single FIERY-BILLED ARACARI (say are-uh-SORRy), a fantastic type of toucan, flies in and perches in a tree in full setting sunlight. Steven zeros the scope in on both birds, in sequence, and shoots several through-the-scope photos with our camera. He does this for birders a lot and though I like doing it too, I let him do his thing.

Fiery-billed Aracari

It's too much. I think I just added two years to my life.

Steven gives us advice on Brauglio Carillo National Park, about 1 1/4 miles from La Selva, and a roadside cafe with particular directions I won't go into here. Ten species of hummers ten feet away.

Steven returns us to Villa Lapas, and I hate to part company with him. Great birder, great guide, great company, singing could be better (grin). See ya Steven, hope to see you in Kenya in July of '06.

We check for short-tailed nighthawk in its sometimes-perch high above the reception building, but can't find it. We go to our room, unload our birding gear, then head down for dinner and one of my favorite dessert combinations of all times.

You know when you go into a 31 Flavors and see them open the freezer lids, and scoop ice cream out of all those cylindrical cartons? Well, there are always two or three such cartons in a freezer, which vary among a) neopolitan, b) coffee and c) mango and vanilla swirl.

But that's only the first half. They also have a bowl of the sweetest fruit cocktail you've ever tasted, but colored with number 6 red dye or something. It's the reddest thing you can imagine.

We retire for the evening, reliving the birds we've got so far, and me realizing this may be the last time I have that red fruit cocktail.

Birding Summary:
Trip Birds: Today 51, Entire Trip 16
Life Birds: Today 23, Entire Trip 57

Best Birds: Long-tailed Manakin (spectacular!), Orange-collared Manakin, Lesser Nighthawk, Crane Hawk, Chestnut-mandibled Toucan, Fiery-billed Aracari (spectacular toucan!)

Upgrades: Blue-throated Goldentail (much closer and longer view), Northern Bentbill (scope view)

Mammals: Hoffman's Two-toed Sloth, White-nosed Coati Mundi, Capucin Monkey

Reptiles: Spiny-tailed Iguana, Fantail Lizard

 

Thursday, February 10, 2005. Day 5 of 18. To Monteverde - Resplendent Quetzal country.

Early morning finds us by the river, working our way downstream, towards the dining area and breakfast.

We get three beautiful male rose-breasted grosbeaks across the river. A female rose-throated becard works between the river and scrub and a common tody-tyrant (I alternate between tody-tyrant and tody-flycatcher with this bird. It's old name was -flycatcher, but I think they're changing it) looks good in yellow and black.

Our first Masked Tityra of the trip is high in a bare tree, then we find an inca dove in a nest on a palm frond.

We finish our birding, enjoy our last Villa Lapas breakfast with Sharon's two begging buddies {All eyes on me because I am slipping them pieces of sausage from my plate},

then roll our luggage downhill to wait for our transportation to Monteverde. I settle up the bill at the front desk just as our van pulls up.

[end of Villa Lapas]

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