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.

 

Sunday, February 13, 2005. Day 8 of 18. To Rancho Naturalista.

[We woke up in Monteverde, birded a little, then went to breakfast]

 

DRIVING TO RANCHO NATURALISTA

We have arranged for an early breakfast, and after we finish, I go out to meet the driver when he gets here. A young man is sitting in the reception area, and I ask if he's our driver. Yes, he says. I ask if he lives here, and he says he lives in Turrialba, which is about a half-hour this side of Rancho Naturalista, today's destination six hours away. He left Turrialba at 1 o'clock this morning. He got here to pick us up an hour early, so caught a nap in the car. Now he will drive us the six hours back.

He is Eric and his young, attractive wife, Katalina, is with him. We load up and take off. As Sharon and Katalina talk a little, Eric says to me, "I brought Katalina to keep me awake. All the way here, she is -", and then he makes his hand be like a hand puppet, opening and closing the fingers and thumb, and in a high pitched voice says, "Yap yap yap yap yap!"

We're glad she's here to keep him awake for the trip back. We learn that he does driving for birders to and from Rancho Naturalista through CRGateway, plus he's a driver for some of the day trips birders take from that lodge.

As we are leaving, we get inca dove and boat-billed flycatcher. He says it'll be six hours, not the four and a half hour estimate in our travel summary. OK, we'll leave the driving to Eric and enjoy the great scenery.

The time passes pretty fast, and about a half-hour short of our goal, he pulls into a road beside a reservoir and says there may be some new birds for us here. He has a slip of paper with some familiar bird names on it, but the last one says Tongora or something like that. He can't tell us what it is because he's not sure. Someone else apparently gave him the list, or called out the names and he wrote them down.

We get Blue-winged Teal, a trip bird, and a number of other waterbirds we already have, but the tongora remains a mystery.

We round a corner, and as we begin a long, twisting descent, Eric says, "Turrialba, my sweet home," and there's something about the way he says that that I like. We make our way through the town and a bit later, we turn up a narrow rising, twisting road. I can't imagine what this will be like when we get to the top, but it doesn't seem too good (a very misleading impression, it will turn out).

ARRIVAL

We finally get to the top, and a driveway passes in front of a huge white lodge, with other buildings around it. Eric executes a left turn in the parking area before the lodge, then backs up so when we unload, he can just pull forward, headed back down the hill.

He is backing when suddenly it feels like we drop into a ditch, and that's just what happened. Three of the workers come over, and they clearly are friends with Eric. They tug and lift, while he steers and they get him out of the ditch. {Amazing! These three young men see the left front wheel off in the ditch and make a decision to LIFT the car up so he can just drive forward and back onto the road. You only do that if you are 19-20 years old, and MALE!}

I get out of the van while Eric unloads our luggage. Helpful workers take the luggage and already knowing our room number, proceed up the slight sidewalk incline to a separate building, only about 50 yards from the main lodge.

People are up on the balcony, looking at birds and they are INCREDIBLY excited. One birder says, "You've got to go straight up to the balcony. It's unbelievable.

I ask who to give the voucher too, and no one's quite certain, so I stick the lodge voucher in my vest pocket, and give Eric his driver's voucher plus a tip. Great job getting us here, Eric.

The lodge has a balcony facing a grass lawn below, with hummingbird feeders on the balcony, with fruit feeders on stands and bare trees on the lawn, and thick plants are beyond that, and finally the land drops away behond that. It's green and beautiful and there are birds everywhere!

Valley view from Rancho Naturalista. {In the lower right you can just make out bananas on the bare tree branches.}

BIRDS! BIRDS! BIRDS!

We get GRAY-HEADED CHACHALACA, a bird named for its call. You know, "Gray-headed, Gray-headed!" Our first White-necked Jacobins since Trinidad in 2000 are beautiful. Montezuma Oropendulas do their raucous calling high in an enormous tree just past the lawn and down the slope a bit, to the left, visible in the photo above.

White-necked Jacobin just off the balcony

I mess up my digital recorder in my excitement, mistaking off for on and vice versa. But we get CROWNED WOODNYMPH, GREEN THORNTAIL (both hummingbirds), CHESTNUT-HEADED OROPENDULA, a baltimore oriole and a clay-colored thrush.

A BLACK-CHEEKED WOODPECKER is off to the right (now we're on the balcony), and we get two spectacular black and red PASSERINI'S TANAGERS. We quickly get SCARLET-RUMPED CACIQUE, then YELLOW-BILLED CACIQUE, with its yellow eye. During that flurry, a tall young man with an interesting accent came onto the balcony, and we learned that he is Roelf, from Holland, and is one of the resident birding guides.

It seems that each birding lodge runs things differently, and we like Rancho Naturalista because you don't have to pay extra for the expertise of the guides. Radical!

I mistake a female White-lined Tanager for a rufous mourner for a second, but get straightened out about that. They are fairly similar-looking, especially when you're in the kind of frenzy I am in.

We quickly meet a man with the coolest looking video camera, on a tripod, aimed at a hummingbird I think. He is Dick Walton and his wife is Patsy. They are from near Boston and Sharon and I both quickly take a liking to them. His cap says www.brownbagproductions.com on it, and I'll have to ask him about that when we run out of life birds here.

OUR ROOM

We go up to our room, unpack, and I enter all the new birds into the database in my Mac G4 Powerbook.

Our room at Rancho Naturalista

We rest for a bit, then go back out.

HUMMINGBIRDS IN THE FOREST

I ask if anyone has seen a certain hummer I've been looking forward to, and get a reply that they are here at the feeders a couple of times a day, but they are regular at the hummingbird feeders "in the forest."

After further inquiry for directions, I talk Sharon into zipping up the slightly muddy trail, where we run into the other guide, Jason, from Pennsylvania, who has been guiding two birders in the forest for a couple of hours. I don't remember who it was (maybe Tony and Steve, two Englanders), but one slips in the mud and falls to the ground. "Down Goes Frazier," as I've trained my grandsons and granddaughters to say when one of them falls. Howard Cosell made this phrase famous during a boxing match between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier. Whoever slipped says to us, "Be careful of that spot right there." We double up our carefulness.

Anyway, we continue on up to the forest feeders, where we get a brown hummingbird with a snow-white cap on top. It's the SNOWCAP,

Snowcap, found on the Internet

and I'm properly chuffed. There are maybe four or so feeders, and there is clearly a pecking order, probably based mostly on size. Hummers are notoriously territorial, and some hummers always chase off others when they catch them feeding on "their" feeders. That's why there are four feeders, each with four "seats," so there's room for everybody.

THE BATHING POOLS

We heard about "the pools" when we were back down at the lodge, and I hustle Sharon down to our room, where we cross our porch, then take another descending path to three or four pools in a stream flowing down the mountain. It's in these pools that certain birds come for a bath, at just about the same time each evening, before sunset. Birding guide Jason is down here to help ID the birds.

We get to talking and learn that he met Steven and Kevin Easley during a birding trip he took to Kenya, where on the second day of the trip, Kevin asked Jason if he would be interested in taking the position he currently has (It turns out that Kevin owns Rancho Naturalista, as well as CRGateway). Pretty cool. I think the lodge manager Kathy had independently already hired somebody for that year, and that was lucky for us, because Jason accepted the next (this) year. So he is our most excellent birding guide.

He says with a stop in London, and then two weeks in Kenya, he saw about 700 bird species when he went. This cinches it for us. We're goin' to Kenya! We'll see if this feeling lasts when we get back home.

We get a beautiful Purple-crowned Fairy (hummer) in one of the upper pools, and a cool snowcap makes an appearance too.

We come back up, hear an outrageous grunting, and Dick Walton points us to a pool in the lawn, where we see Green Climbing Toads in the water, around the perimeter, doing a noisy concert. The big one seems to have a human in its throat. I can hardly hear him.

We talk with some of the birders there. Some have been here a few days, others just got here. The food is excellent and we really enjoy the new people we meet here. Jason tells us about a couple of birds he's going out to see in the dark. Ooh, exciting.

I ask if it's possible to do a certain day trip tomorrow, and there are enough people that they schedule it. They had ALREADY scheduled it, actually. They will have to add an extra vehicle to take us too, but are graciously up to the task. Roelf will be our guide while Jason stays here to help the remaining guests. Then day after tomorrow Jason will take the rest of the group (those that want to) to this particular trip, called the Tuis River Valley day trip.

Jason invites anyone interested to go with him to a spot on a forest trail where a whistling wren roosts for the night, and a chuck-will's-widow wakes up from its sleep to begin its nightly activities.

NIGHT BIRDS

We hit the trail about 5 pm, and we're all strung out on the narrow trail. We reach the desired spot in five or ten minutes. Jason uses his laser pointer and flashlight to explain that the wren sings from down the slope in the thick brush, works its way up here, flies up and lands on the trail, then pops into its hole in the side of the dirt bank to our right (as we look up the trail).

He hears the song about 520 or 540 pm I think, but it's definitely dark in the forest. "It's nearer now," says Jason. Then the bird pops up, lands on the trail just about as expected, only instead of the 3-4 seconds we hoped for, it stays on the trail about one second, and pop - it's in its hole.

We laugh and trade stories of the view we got, or the yawn we were doing, or the looking down at the binoculars, or whatever. Some didn't see it, some saw only a glimpse and some saw the full glorious ONE second! Then there's further discussion about whether you should count a bird like this. Some absolutely won't do it, but Sharon and I do. My view was just a glimpse, Sharon's was a little better of the WHISTLING WREN. We both heard the song clearly.

Then we move further up the slope on the trail, stopping only about fifty feet further. There are a number of posts on the "down side" of the trail with a rope strung between them, for something to hold onto as you pull yourself up, up on the trail, and so you won't fall off the trail, down the mountain. Jason hits one of the posts with his laser pointer, and says, "The bird will probably land on this post or the next closer one," and bingo, just as he says that, the Chuck-will's-widow, named for its call, pops onto the post. Everybody gets a great look, as Jason has lit it up with his flashlight when we all say we're ready. What a spectacular upgrade for us. Jason turns the light off after 5 or 10 seconds so as not to upset the bird too much.

Talk of coming again tomorrow night is one of the conversation highlights as we make our way in the darkness, with the aid of our flashlights, back down to the lodge and our room.

We go back to our room, unload all our stuff, then go down to dinner. There are two circular tables in one room, each seating perhaps 8 people, and off that big room is a smaller one with a rectangular table that seats 8 or 10.

We enjoy dinner and everybody gets to know each other better, telling tall bird tail tales. I LIKE this group. We head off for our room, and I do the daily maintenance of the bird sighting list.

I take a bathroom break, come back, and Sharon has placed a valentine's day card on my pillow. I laugh because she thought ahead to buy one and bring it. I say, "I got you one too," and go to get it but it's not where I thought I put it (my backpack). I look through everything, including all the other luggage, about three times, then on the fourth time, I remember that I stuck it inside a book, but I can't remember which book. I finally locate it, and give it to her. We're both laughing, all the time I'm looking. Which is about forty minutes. Ah life gets interesting.

Now what was I doing when I went to the bathroom?

Birding Summary:
Trip Birds: Today 18, Entire Trip 242
Life Birds: Today 9, Entire Trip 108

Best Birds: White-necked Jacobin, Violet-crowned Woodnymph, Green Thorntail, Snowcap (fantastic tiny brown hummingbird with a white cap), Purple-crowned Fairy (all to here are hummingbirds), Passerini's Tanager, Scarlet-rumped Cacique, Chuck-wills-widow.

Upgrades: Chuck-will's-widow

Mammals: none new

Reptiles: none new

Amphibians: Green Climbing Toad

 

Monday, February 14, 2005. Day 9 of 18. Rancho. Tuis River Valley.

We go to the balcony before breakfast - just the place to be.

We get Black-crowned Saltator, green thorntail, then a LITTLE TINAMOU calling. A stripe-throated hummingbird also calls, and then we get a color counterpart to an earlier bird, this one the BROWN VIOLETEAR (hummingbird).

A female snowcap is in the shrubs. Roelf says crowned woodnymph, which we get next, is being changed to violet-crowned woodnymph. A male Merlin stumps the experts for about two seconds, but then is nailed as it flies in a large circle above us. The local birds are not dummies, as suddenly there isn't a single bird in the open. They've all dived into the bushes. {Merlins hunt other birds.}

THE DAY TRIP

We have breakfast, then prepare to take off at about 7am for the river trip. There are four English birders, who I like to call the Brits, made up of two couples. Tony and Maggie, Steve and Liz. Maggie has MS and is the toughest lady I've met in a long while. She's great.

Steve has brought his own scope, and Liz is very friendly to us. Tony and Steve are the big birders of the group. I really like this British quartet, even more than that other one of 1964. And I really liked them.

There are also three ladies from Sonoma County in California. They are Suzanne, Rebecca and Eleanor. Rebecca is the youngest and is not a birder, but likes to travel. Suzanne and Eleanor can be heard repeatedly saying, "Rebecca, we'll turn you into a birder yet." Rebecca is or was a nurse, and has done volunteer work in Central America and (I think) the middle east. I hear her say things that sound like they came out of Sharon's mouth, also a nurse. Eleanor is the quiet one, and has a certain confidence about herself that I admire. They are a great triumvirate, with Suzanne being the take-no-prisoners-leader of the three. You want her on your side when you need some problem straightened out with accommodations.

Eric (who drove us from Monteverde to here) has come to drive the larger van for the day trip, and one of the guys here (Jimmy) drives Sharon and me in a smaller vehicle.

We make our way down the long, winding entrance road, then drive the highway a little, and finally take off on a small dirt and gravel road that parallels a river, which must be the Tuis River. Actually it looks more like a stream, and it's possible this IS a stream that ultimately dumps INTO the Tuis River. I don't ask and still don't know.

Roelf has ridden with us, and we get up the hill first. He gets out to scan the river. He says the sunbitttern can often be seen here. {Oh, boy, we hope.} As he scans, the van pulls up and we tell them what's up. I can see a horse grazing nearby on the side of the trail opposite the river. A cattle egret hasn't read his own dossier, as he flies in and perches on the horse's rump.

No sunbittern, so we pile back into the vehicles and drive higher yet, finally coming to a place where the road rises at a much steeper angle, with ruts and things. This is the vehicle stopping point. Everybody's out now and we're birding our way up the river.

Jimmy, our driver, goes back to Rancho, but Eric stays here with the larger van. Roelf has scanned up and down, but no sunbittern. He says for us to stay here. He'll cross over the river on this rickety little two-board "bridge" and if he finds the bird, he'll "encourage" it to come down to us.

I turn on the video recorder in case he falls in, but he makes it across and is out of sight. Dang, no Central American Favorite Home Video footage. We get a wonderful pair of gray, black and white TORRENT TYRANNULETS working the rocks in the stream. They are very active, working around the torrent that is the stream.

We are all looking around while we wait, watching the tyrannulets and looking for new birds, and in a few minutes, one of us (not me) says, "There it is!" We look upriver, and sure enough, the SUNBITTERN is standing on a large boulder in the river. Wow, what a great bird. It slowly makes its way back up the river before Roelf ever shows up, but we get to watch it for a minute or two.

The fabulous Sunbittern (Internet)

Somebody (not me) suggests that we play dumb when Roelf comes back and ask if he ever saw the bird (subtle way of saying we didn't, you see). He comes back, and we are all in on the act. But Maggie is best. She'd be killer at Texas Hold'em Poker.

At first Roelf believes we are pulling his leg, but we bluff so well, that he begins to doubt it. We finally can't stand it and let him in on our little game, and I get a great picture of the relief on his face.

Roelf with scope; Tony to the right

Maggie will stay in the shade, in one of those 3-legged portable seats while the rest of us clamber up the slope.

Now I don't remember how much of this Maggie got in on, but we get PALTRY TYRANNULET, a bird formerly called mistletoe tyrannulet. A nice broad-winged hawk flies up the valley, identified by Tony, Steve and Roelf. A Southern Rough-winged Swallow overflies us, and then we get a nice pair of pale-billed woodpeckers investigating a large hole in a dead tree. I get an excellent photo through Roelf's scope.

A dusky-capped flycatcher is a nice bird, then we get a far-off view of a BARRED HAWK, whose old name was black-chested hawk. White-collared swifts bank and glide high overhead.

Then we get views of a beautiful CRIMSON-COLLARED TANAGER, black with a red collar, head and rump.

Crimson-collared Tanager (Internet)

Wow. A tropical pewee is next. A female white-crowned parrot flies over, then we get the first of many chestnut-sided warblers (m). Our first Keel-billed Toucan of the trip makes his way over us. A nice tropical gnatcatcher is across the river. A common bird, but beautiful gray, black and white show well in the sunlight.

A tawny-capped euphonia is a big disappointment, because we never saw it. Dangit, that would have been a good bird. A BAY WREN sings, and we get a nice pair of buff-rumped warblers working across the stream. A BLACK-CROWNED TITYRA is a new bird for us, and so is a YELLOW-THROATED VIREO. A nice rufous-capped warbler tops of this bunch.

I leave my digital voice recorder running and it records 5 minutes 42 seconds of random people saying miscellaneous things, lots about birds. Can you imagine? I mention this because I press the record button, record my ten seconds of commentary, then somehow miss the STOP button by not checking the small screen to verify it's stoped. I don't catch it till the next time I want to record something.

I used to do the same thing with our video camera (used to?), and once in Canada I taped 45 minutes of us arguing our way from Banff to Calgary. Lots of fun.

A couple of COLLARED ARACARIS are way above us on the skyline, and we can barely make them out with Roelf's scope.

We have slowly made our way to a metal bridge that crosses the river/stream, and we get another torrent tyrannulet. Busy, busy.

On the Iron Bridge

Next Sharon sees, while I only hear several SULFUR-WINGED PARAKEETS fly over. We hear a pair of stripe-breasted wrens, and Sharon can mimic them perfectly. A pair of Black Phoebes work the stream in the same place as the tyrannulet. We have these birds in our neighbor's yard across the street in that "other" San Jose.

This morning, before we left, we turned in a massive basket of laundry, for which Rancho Naturalista will charge us a grand total of 5 dollars. I've been to places that would charge a hundred for this.

BACK TO THE RANCH

We drive back down this hill, over the highway a bit, then back up the entrance road and we find Dick Walton up on the balcony. His wife Patsy is there, and I excitely get Patsy's attention. "Patsy! Look! Look what's on Dick's cap!" Patsy says, "Oh, he put that katydid there." Got me!

Dick Walton's hat is bugged

As we're laughing, Dick spots a GOLDEN-OLIVE WOODPECKER and I get us a golden-hooded tanager in the big tree. Colorful passerini's tanagers, in their black and red colors, move in and out of the bushes.

Which reminds me. Remember that "tongara"? Well the latin name of the tanagers is "tangara", and I'm sure that's what our driver Eric wrote down when we were at the reservoir. One of the guides had taken him down there and named some of the birds, somehow naming a tanager its latin name. Puzzle solved.

ENTERTAINMENT

We have the usual wonderful dinner later, after which I present a slide show of the best photos of our Costa Rica trip to date, including today. Lots of oohs and ahs and what-kind-of-computer-is-that, and then Dick Walton asks if my Powerbook will play DVDs. It will, and he asks if he can present the latest draft of a new DVD he's working on. He says it's birds, moths, butterflies and plants (I think) of parts of New England, including the world famous Cape May area.

The entire group's eager for entertainment, so when the birding section is over (fabulous), Dick offers to stop it, but we want to see the entire thing and we do. It's first rate, very professional. We could be watching Nature or Nova. Dick did the video, and both the writing and narration. Well done, Mr. Walton. And this is only a draft.

The Sonoma ladies want me to publish our photos on Ofoto so they can get copies or look at them. I promise to do so.

We visit a bit more, then head up to our room. What a great day. And what a great bunch of birders. Can't wait for tomorrow. We hope the weather and birds continue in the same manner as today. Tomorrow we plan to bird the forest with Roelf. There are still a number of birds in the local forest we haven't seen yet, and we have yet to seriously bird this region.

Birding Summary:
Trip Birds: Today 21, Entire Trip 263
Life Birds: Today 12, Entire Trip 120

Best Birds: Crimson-collared Tanager, Torrent Tyrannulet, Sunbittern

Upgrades: Chuck-will's-widow.

Mammals: none new

Reptiles: none new

 

Tuesday, February 15, 2005. Day 10 of 18. Rancho. Forest.

We wake up, get ready for the day, then go down to the balcony. Dick Walton is already there and points out a Brown-hooded Parrot, perched in a tree over to our right, waiting for the rain to stop. It's under nice big leaves to keep dry.

Everyone is excited because of the male black-crested coquette they just saw, and after a few minutes we get the female BLACK-CRESTED COQUETTE, a tiny, tiny hummingbird, working over in the shrubbery, but we'd love to see the male.

There is also an olive-backed euphonia in the same tree as the parrot, and then a yellow-throated vireo. Three collared aracaris make their way in to attack the bananas.

A white-throated spadebill is in and out so quickly we don't get it, but we do get a nice Golden-crowned Warbler. It's great having so many good birders, each scanning intently for new birds. It's not likely we'll miss anything that comes by, the spadebill notwithstanding.

BIRDING IN THE FOREST

Even though it's raining a bit, Roelf collects those of us who want to make our way up the muddy trail and see what we can get in the forest trails beyond the hummingbird feeder spot.

Dick and Patsy Walton are with us, as well as the three Sonoma girls. Is it OK to call them girls? Girls are fun, and they are fun, so certain fractured logic would dictate that they are girls. Roelf hears a violaceous trogon calling, and he locates the right spot on his tape, then plays it about every fifteen seconds but the bird stops calling. We have come to a spot where the going will get tougher, and Dick decides to peel off and head back to the forest bird feeders, to get some more video footage. We say so long and head up the slippery, muddy trail, on the edge of what might be described as a pasture.

But then we hear Dick calling. We backtrack, and he has located a beautiful male violaceous trogon. Great looks.

We turn around and head back up again, slipping and sliding. Incredibly slick mud, and we all make sloshing, sucking sounds with our boots and shoes as we walk through the stuff, ever climbing higher.

The trail has begun to bend to the left and not be so muddy, approaching deep forest and we get a nice male variable seedeater, plus a chestnut-sided warbler in a tree with another trogon. Roelf points out a nice Mourning Warbler (m), and after having trouble seeing it for a while, we both get it.

We climb higher and Roelf excitedly says, "Listen! THICKET ANTPITTA!" He has been here several months, and has never seen this bird. We are in the same boat because we have been here almost thirty seconds and we have never seen it either.

We begin to hear the exciting snapping sounds of a bird we all want to see, and then by listening to Roelf's careful instructions, we see the black, white and yellow of a WHITE-COLLARED MANAKIN. The males will fly back and forth between two young, thin trees, snapping as they move. And they will move their wings incredibly fast and make a "whirrrr" sound. What we REALLY want to do is find these birds on their lek, doing this activity, but our bird flies and takes the snaps with him.

We resume the walk, coming to a fairly level stretch of trail on the mountainside. I'm in the back, and I get two photos I like. One is some of the women marching on the trail, and the other is of the quiet whiteness of the cloud forest, directly above them.

Sharon, Patsy, Suzanne, Rebecca

Rancho Naturalista Cloud Forest. One of our favorite photos of the trip.

It's apparently an audio-only day for some birds as next we get a SCALE-CRESTED PYGMY-TYRANT calling, but we never see it.

Now one of the main reasons we're up here in the rain is that yesterday, Jason located an "ant swarm." What goes on here is that the ants fan out, traveling outward from their nest location in one direction, collecting food to bring back to the colony. They are army ants and have fairly vicious bites, so you want to be careful not to be standing in them.

The thing is that birds will follow the leading edge of the swarm, feeding on the insects that the ants scare up. And we, of course, want to see these birds. We have been teasing Roelf (Everybody ELSE, you understand. I can't recall doing this. Of course, I also can't recall what I had for breakfastÉ), and as I'm recording the sound of the pygmy-tyrant, Roelf asks, "Are you recording?" I say yes, and he says carefully, "Bob does a poor job."

Everybody laughs at this, so let's just get back to birding, huh?

Roelf then asks, "What's the picture for?" referring to the display on my digital voice recorder, which in reality tells which folder you are in (of the 3 available, A,B and C), which file you are recording (up to 100 per folder), and how many seconds you are into that file. It also has icons for other things, like how much battery life is left, etc.

We get rather poor looks at the wonderful BAY-HEADED TANAGER, which I've been looking forward to since my "Birds of Costa Rica" book arrived months ago. It's on the cover. It is in deep shadows here, and the colors aren't very good.

A PLAIN BROWN WOODCREEPER is one of the ant swarm-followers, says Roelf. Then we get a really exciting Barred Forest-falcon. A very serious-looking falcon, with horizontal barring on its chest.

We have been climbing, climbing, working our way up this zigzag trail and are taking a breather. Roelf says for us to wait here, and he'll go up another zig and zag and see if the ants have reached that level yet. Soon he comes back down and says yes, let's go up higher.

We go and get incredible views of several IMMACULATE ANTBIRDS, black birds that slowly move their tails up, down, back up. There is a light blue mark around their eye that I think is actually skin that surrounds the eye. There is more behind the eye that makes it look, at first glance, like they simply have a blue spot behind the eye.

We can hear the much-desired spotted antbird responding to Roelf's tape, which he has been playing because he heard it earlier. Roelf and I see it zip through, but no one else. It's beautiful. {Oh, yeah, rub it in.} We move higher, hearing then seeing a WHITE-BREASTED WOOD-WREN.

We get an additional 327 (rough estimate. I'm sure I missed some) immaculate antbirds, and they outnumber the plain brown woodcreepers by only about 5. Not that we're complaining. We're in the rainforest chasing a great bird. Roelf says we should go another level higher.

We trudge up, and the SPOTTED ANTBIRD becomes cooperative, perching in the open for all of us to see clearly and for a long time. What a great little bird.

We make our way down, down, slipping and sliding through the muddy trail in the open, passing through the "pasture" again, past the hummingbird feeders, past the whistling wren's nest, and then to our room.

We rest, then have lunch, as today's Tuis River Valley group has returned. We swap stories of birds we saw and birds we missed, then a group of us decides to walk down the entry road because Jason said he saw a possible ant swarm there as they were returning and people had seen a Rufous Motmot there.

BIRDING THE ENTRY ROAD

Dick and Patsy, the Sonoma ladies, Sharon and I and Roelf head down. Dick has his video camera, hoping to get some ant swarm footage.

We get YELLOW-BELLIED ELAENIA almost immediately, and at one corner, we get a brief glimpse of an immaculate antbird, but Dick didn't see it. We hang around the corner a bit, hoping this potential life bird for Dick will show itself, but it doesn't reappear, so we continue heading down.

There is a ditch on the left side of the road as we walk down, and someone notices that there is a two-lane highway of ants in this ditch. They aren't "swarming", meaning they're not searching for food, but rather seem to be moving their nest. We see occasional ants carrying eggs, and one out of ten or so ants has an extra large, red head. These are the soldier ants, with the powerful jaws. Almost every ant is moving upward, but there are a very small number moving down.

Dick gets some ant bivouac footage and I am thinking of the interesting thing he said earlier. When people see his video camera, mounted on the tripod, pointed at something, they walk over and start talking to him about what he's doing, not realizing that he's getting footage, INCLUDING AUDIO. Pretty funny, but frustrating for him sometimes.

We decide to turn around and head back up. Sharon has a nice rest scheduled in her mind, but I mercilessly talk her into going up and trying to find the manakin lek. I'm addicted to the idea of seeing them doing their snapping and whirring in action.

JUST A LITTLE MORE MANAKIN PLEASE

Ever the great sport, Sharon decides she wants to try for that too, because we're leaving tomorrow. We make our way up the slippery trail, and follow the new directions we got from Roelf and Jason.

After a little bit of wheel-spinning, we hear incredible sounds just in the thick bush next to the trail, and we can see blurs of the birds. Jason had said we could go in and get close so we make our way into the first layer of brush and get some pretty cool views of two birds that seem to be competing with each other for bragging rights. We vote a tie. Snap. Crack. Whirr. Pop.

It's getting darker now so we head back down. As we approach the nightjar location, I see a bird perched on the dirt bank, clinging, like a woodpecker. It has a dark brown body, but the head is darker. I point it out to Sharon, but it flies around the corner. We carefully walk around, and then notice that the tail is very short. We think this is a DULL-MANTLED ANTBIRD, and Jason later confirms that they hear this bird near this location at dusk all the time.

We come back down to the lodge, and talk with Jason more about Africa and Kenya. He says he knows the owner of Birdtreks, a North American company which runs the African trips. They hire Steven and/or Kevin Easley to be the bird guide(s) for their trips. So now, as Steven Easley pointed out to us earlier, we have the option of going to Africa with Brits or Americans. We'll decide that later, as Steven is a guide for both.

I collect detail information and learn that Jason's last name is Horn and Roelf's last name is Hovinga.

77 MEN WALK INTO A BAR...

After dinner, I stand in the door between the two dining areas, and using my Powerbook notes, I deliver the speech I crafted this afternoon.

I've given it I think at three events now, so this will be the fourth. A typical line, adapted for this event, goes like this:

"Adam, who said, 'I got more ribs. You got more women?' never birded Rancho Naturalista." And Lot, who when his wife was turned into a pillar of salt, said "Salt I got. Popcorn I need." never birded Rancho.

And so on. I'll put this speech on our website at www.24birds.net in the next week or so, so you can copy it or read it as you wish.

It gets lots of laughs, and I take great delight in watching faces and listening to the laughter. As some of my high school teachers used to ask, "What do you think you are? Some kind of comedian?" Or was it Canadian?

Then I show the day's photos in a computer slide show, which encourages Roelf to show pictures on his laptop he's taken during his time in Costa Rica. There are great snakes (including the Fer de Lance), frogs, birds, flowers and scenery. Great snaps, Roelf! {I encourage Roelf NOT to tell his mother how he POKED! the fer de lance to get it to move for his pictures. There are some things you just shouldn't tell your mother.}

We finish up, me reluctant to say good night to all these great people, but we head off to our room, so we can pre-pack for leaving tomorrow.

There is a huge white sheet tacked to the side of our building, with an unusual-looking light fixture on a tripod, aimed at the sheet. The butterfly and moth lovers have requested that this be turned on tonight. They will check it early in the morning, take photos and examine he results, then turn the light off before the birds realize that breakfast is on the sheet.

Birding Summary:
Trip Birds: Today 16, Entire Trip 279
Life Birds: Today 12, Entire Trip 132

Best Birds: Black-crested Coquette (hummingbird), White-collared Manakin, Barred Forest-falcon, Spotted Antbird.

Mammals: none new

Reptiles: none new

 

Wednesday, February 16, 2005. Day 11 of 18. Rancho to Selva Verde.

It's still dark when we wake up, and Sharon finds a nice big moth on her jacket on the front porch, drawn by the all-night light.

Mothra

We quickly make our way to the action on the balcony, after looking at the hundred or so moths on the sheet. A Tropical Parula in a secropia tree wishes us a good morning, in its bright colors. Roelf and Jason are both here and they get us a BLACK-STRIPED SPARROW, on the ground, below the bushes.

The hummingbirds are out early.

Ah, breakfast!

A common tody-flycatcher presents his black, yellow and white colors for our approval, which we give freely. A gray-chested dove struts across the grass below the shrubs in front of us.

Rancho Naturalista balcony view, looking left

The birders that will stay here tell us goodbye one at a time as they take off for their morning walks or trips. This has been a very special time, we all agree.

[end of Rancho Naturalista]

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