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


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

[starting as we leave Rancho Naturalista, about 9am]


We continue on down the entry road.

It's Wednesday the 16th. Tomorrow is Sharon's older son Matt's birthday. He'll be 37. Happy birthday, Matt, a day early. He and his younger brother Pete will run the LA Marathon on Sunday March 6th. {Since this report is going out after we got home, I can say that they both finished that grueling race and we watched. Way to go, Matt and Pete!}

We come to a place where a big truck is temporarily blocking the road. I look out to our right, and there beside the road is a House Sparrow. We continue on, and there is more construction later, which slows us to a crawl. We are behind a pickup truck, whose back is full of bananas.

Young boys with bags of dried fruit and the like go up to each stopped car and ask the driver if they want to buy some. Eric asks us if we want any, and I say, "Tell him we don't want any, but could he please reach in the back of that truck in front of us and get me a couple of bananas."

Somehow my message doesn't translate and yes, I get no ...

We leave the construction behind, and get to open highway again. We see a couple of birds by a small lake or pond, and Eric stops when he senses that we're interested. A Purple Gallinule stalks the shore, across the highway from a huge pineapple plantation, fenced and with a big, guarded gate.

After a length of time, Eric points to the left, and we go by the entrance to La Selva. We have a full day planned and paid for, with guide, at this world famous birding place not tomorrow, but the next day.

We go by a little shopping center in the barest sense, which has a gasoline station plus a large building that says on it, "RESTAURANT, DISCOTHEQUE, BANANAS." OK, let's see, a couple of bananas and a samba.

We finally arrive at Selva Verde Lodge, and Eric drives us to the reception area, a desk that is totally open to the elements, but of course totally under roof because of the rain. I give them our lodge voucher, and I can't wait to see the bungalow we'll be staying in.

After the check-in details, the receptionist pulls out a map, which shows the complex, divided by the main road. On this side, the main side, are almost all of the accommodations, the dining room, the bar, the veranda, the activity center, etc.

The clerk goes on to explain that on the OTHER side of the road, OUR side, about a quarter of a mile UP the hill, are the bungalows. Eric says it's a long way up, and he'll drive us so we don't have to carry our luggage. Through Eric, we show the clerk Sharon's walking stick, and begging infirmity, ask if he can get us a room down here. There aren't any tonight, but he'll try to get us down here for our last three nights, of the four we will be here.

Eric drives us up, we leave our luggage in our tiny room with two twin cots and a bunk bed. If our boy scout camp had rooms like this, I would have resigned. Well, it DOES have a bathroom, running water {Cold only in the sink, I didn't try the shower but it had cold and hot faucets.}, a rainproof roof, and electricity, but that's about it. No communication, so if we want to ask the clerk a question, or EAT, for example, we gear up for the rain, trudge down the quarter mile of dark road, cross the highway, and ask the clerk, for example, "Can I change dollars for colones?" Et-dang-so on.

Anyway, after we unload, with Eric's help, he drives us down to the road, across the road, then down the driveway to the dining room. We are in time for lunch. I give Eric his voucher and a tip, and he says goodbye, with a sorrowful look in his eye as if to say, "Man, I'm really sorry they stuck you with that room." You don't say. {He does tell us that all the rooms are alike but we are dubious after seeing our spartan room.}

Eric is off, and we have lunch. This is buffet style again, and from this second floor dining room, we can see a river rushing by. There are fruit feeders outside, and we see collared aracaris working their way through bananas and oranges. A gaggle of tourists are taking photos. This is a lodge that specializes in huge groups of tourists, like 50 at a time or so, two or three groups at a time. It's a little overwhelming after the down home atmosphere at Rancho Naturalista.

There are lots of people around, and some elderly women come over and ask, "Are you with Elderhostel?" Say what? We giggle at the thought of a group of old people having a good time here, and some thinking we are them. If they had seen us sliming our way through the muddy trails on the mountainside at Rancho, they wouldn't be asking such a question. That's what tickles me. We look like them. And I guess maybe, we ARE them, but only in a young sort of way. {We ARE elder and occasionally HOSTILE, so maybe we are with that group.}

We have our birding gear, so after we eat, we go down, and set out across the hanging bridge spanning the river. As we walk across, a kingfisher flies under us. We see gray on its back, so it's either ringed or belted kingfisher. But then, you knew that, huh?

Bridge to the Rainforest Trails

We meet and chat with a fellow who says they have lined up a guide named Gilbert, and points him out, further along, on the bridge. We go all the way to the end of the bridge and find that WHAT'S THIS? there is a locked gate. We can't go into the forest. We conclude that you have to hire a guide or else go with one of the official free walks to get in.

As we come back, we see a wonderful sunbittern working the tadpoles in a pool beside the river. I get some great video, but never can quite get him when he opens those wings to show us his beautiful butterly-like markings.

We find Gilbert and ask him if we can go on tomorrow's 830am tour with him. He says yes, to talk with the front desk. We walk up from the dining room to the front desk, verbally "sign up" for tomorrow's bird walk with Gilbert, deciding to "bird" the road down to the main lodge at 6 or 6:30 before breakfast since we have to walk down anyway.

Can you tell that I'm slightly miffed?

So we decide to take the roundabout sidewalk path back to our room, and after crossing the highway, get a nice RED-THROATED ANT-TANAGER. We continue on, but the birding is a little quiet. We head on up to the room and take a rest in our summer camp cottage.

We're not having a very good time yet. Darkness comes, and we dress for rain, in case our ride doesn't come for us and we have to walk down, then walk out to the loading/unloading spot.

A man is waiting there, and Sharon talks with him a little. He works here, and speaks to someone on a walkie talkie ever so often. Six-thirty comes and goes and I just hate this open-ended setup. What happens if they forget us? What happens if the van breaks down and they can't come? What happens if they want to tell us they'll be thirty minutes late? What happens if they go to sleep? What happens if a snake bites us and we want them to come quicker?

Mom taught me to ask these questions. For example, the day I told her I was going to go skydiving in New Jersey the next day. She said, "Oh Bob, what if the parachute doesn't open?" And I said, "Mom, there's a backup chute." And she said, "What if IT doesn't open?" Well, I wasn't very good in debate, and I could never think of a good logical answer to such questions, so I said, "Well, I guess I'll die," and she said, "Oh, Bobby."

I used to say, "Mom, praying is excellent, and I guess it's ok to worry, but I don't think you have to do both."

Anyway, the van comes at about twenty till seven, and it's full of foreigners. They are speaking a language that sounds German to me, so I ask if they are German. "Swiss!" they cry, insulted. The same van that brought them up here will take us down to dinner.

Having ridden down to dinner, the driver says he'll pick us up here after dinner.

How will he know when we're done with dinner? How do we call him when we're ready? What if he forgets us?

We go up to dinner and enjoy being in the company of all the elderhostels, then we begin to wonder where the name came from. I thought this organization provided cheap rooms in the United States for poor, elderly people who are members of the club. But then, there's lots I don't know.

We finish dinner, walk out and boom, the driver pulls up, let's out the Swiss, who say hallo. We say hi, and the driver runs us up to our room.

We go to sleep listening to constant and heavy downpour all night. Will they still do that 830am bird walk, led by Gilbert tomorrow? Do they EVER cancel? It IS the rainforest. How do we find out if they cancelled? Will they come and get us? We didn't leave them any request to do so.

Ah, peaceful sleep. Love the sound of the rain POUNDING on the tin roof.

I'd say good night, but I doubt you could hear me.

Still, with all this, we love being here in Costa Rica, the people, the rain and cloud forests, and the birds. Oh, and the perky little poison dart frogs.

Birding Summary:
Trip Birds: Today 7, Entire Trip 286
Life Birds: Today 4, Entire Trip 136

Best Birds: Black-striped Sparrow, Rufous Motmot, Red-throated Ant-tanager

Upgrades: Sunbittern

Mammals: none new

Reptiles: none new


Thursday, February 17, 2005. Day 12 of 18. Selva Verde.

The alarm clock wakes us up in the dark. It's still raining steadily, as it has all night long. We turn off the ringing and go back to sleep, unable to call the lodge to see if the morning walk is still on. We assume either a) it's cancelled, or b) it's not cancelled, but we don't really want to bird in this heavy rain.

We wake up a little later to knocks on the door. Sharon answers it, and it's the maid, we presume to clean up the room. Sharon asks if she can come back later, and she says yes. Sharon tells me later that there were also two men with the maid. Anyway, we go back to sleep, then finally wake up naturally at 9 am. It's stopped raining, and unbelievably, the sun is shining.

Now we wish we'd have gotten up. But that rain...

I look for the two men, assuming that they were sent here to help us carry luggage so we can move to our NEW ROOM. I hope I hope. And I hope we didn't blow our move. But they're nowhere to be seen. I can't call the front desk and ask where they are, but I've already told you about that. Grouse, grouse, grouse.

We dress for possible rain, then walk down the road to the dining room, hoping breakfast is open till 10. We bird a little on the way though.

We get olive-backed euphonia, we think. Sharon has a couple of wrens while I'm taking a photo of a cool green and black frog. We later learn that this is called a GREEN AND BLACK POISON DART FROG. It's about one and a half inches long, and is very cool.

"I'm Bad"

We are under the covered walkway now, between reception and the dining room. It's four minutes till 10. I rush along ahead, and learn that breakfast closed at 9. {But we ccan have tea, coffee, juice and the cookies that are available all day long, so we do.} We go back up to reception, and learn that we have been moved down here, but not quite yet. The room will be ready in half an hour, but they will bring the luggage down a couple of hours after that.

We decide to bird our way back up, pack our luggage and wait for them up there.

We walk across the road, then enter the small trail which parallels the main road. Then we get a bird that's been tickling my mind for some months now. It's the RED-FOOTED PLUMMETEER, a very dark hummer with reddish-pink feet.

Red-footed Plummeteer (Internet)

The only red-footed hummer in Costa Rica. It's very territorial, defending the many flowers along this path, and runs off any of the rufous-tailed and other hummingbirds that try to feed here.

Torch Ginger

This flower is beautiful and fascinating, seeming to hover in mid-air from this angle. {Later we learn that it is the torch ginger plant.}

We continue through the garden area and get a nice upgrade of a flock of silver-throated tanagers. I can see all the identification marks very clearly. Nice birds.

We make it back up to the room and pack up everything, then wait for the movers. Just before you get to our room, there is a screened-in room with a hammock in it. There is no door, so it's wide open to any insect who cares to come in, but the good news is, there aren't many mosquitoes around.

Sharon loves hammocks, and decides to wait there. The bad news is that the knot at one end of the hammock is not tied properly, unbeknownst to us. The good news is that it's not very far to the ground. The bad news is that the ground is hardwood. The good news is that I have my camera in my pocket. The bad news is that Sharon lies down in the hammock, the knot comes loose and Sharon hits the floor hard, butt first, and the wooden hammock spreader, flips up and catches her a good one right on the shin before flopping back to the floor.

I can't think of any more good news, other than that she's alive and doesn't want me to help her up yet. I do get a photo, being the experienced documentation person I am, from my nuclear power plant startup testing days.

Note the perspective view, how her boots look way larger than her head. When I'm upset, I sometimes have unusual thoughts.


So let's review the rules we have so far, shall we, reordered by importance?

One, don't put your arm into a hole in a dirt bank. If you do and a snake bites you and you go to the hospital and you get the anti-venom and you go back out on a trail, don't do it AGAIN.

Two, don't step on a moving vine on the trail, especially if it has Xs on its back.

Three, check the two hammock knots before getting in a hammock.

And four, don't stand under a monkey. But if you do, keep your mouth closed.

We (meaning me) get tired waiting for the van to come get us, so we leave the door unlocked and decide to check out the snaps we're hearing down by the passenger pickup area. We were trying to ID a probable broad-winged hawk when we heard the manakins popping and snapping.

Five minutes later, Sharon adds another rule. Don't fall down in the slippery red mud on a steep slope while looking for white-collared manakins after you've already been dumped by a hammock. {It's funny, but it is not unusal for me to fall down again after I have fallen once. Probably it throws off my balance or something. Luckily, I only slipped and got very muddy but not hurt any. My butt is still sore from the hammock fall, though.}

We make our way down to our new Room 51, on the GOOD side of the road, right in the middle of all the action. There is a covered walkway from here in one direction to reception, and in the other direction to the dining room. Life is finally good again. Our luggage isn't here yet, but the room is huge. It's in a block of four rooms, on stilts, one story above tthe ground. I presume to keep snakes and crawlies out, but maybe for floods too. There is a large queen-size bed and three twin beds in the room. Space for us both to lay out our stuff. There is a ceiling fan plus two additional wall fans and a telephone. There is a modern bathroom, clean and white, with a hair dryer.

We later learn that the "bungalows" are really for students and researchers staying here, but sometime or other they decided to rent them out when they were empty. Now the interesting part is when CRGateway, our agent, tried to get us in here, the bungalows were the only type of room available, So the fact is, we only got in here because they HAD made the bungalows available. Remember, inside every cloud, there is a silver-throated tanager.

On the way down to our room, we met the Brits, whom we became friends with at Rancho Naturalita. I say although I remember Maggie's name, I need a name refresher. They laugh and say everyone remembers Maggie, then they refresh my memory: Tony and Maggie, Steve and Liz. They are staying at another lodge called La Quinta, but are here for the afternoon. I talk with them a bit, and they have hired Gilbert to do a private tour with them a little later this afternoon, and they say we're welcome to join them.

They were at La Selva this morning, but had a poor guide, and were a bit disappointed, so they hope that Gilbert can get them some nice birds today. They DID manage to see perhaps the number one bird at La Selva though, the great green macaw. I asked if they saw the green ibis, and they said they heard them, but they are regular at La Quinta, their lodge. Dang.

As we hear all the time, it IS a rainforest.

Sharon and I go to lunch, and go through the buffet line, Sharon first and me a minute or two later. When I come to sit down, Sharon tells me with a very WHITE face that she was just informed here in the dining room that she had a phone call. Her conversation, she says, went something like this:

Clerk: You have a phone call at reception.
Sharon: "Do you know who it is ?
Clerk: No
Sharon: Is it from America?
Clerk: Yes

This can't be any good news, and we're worried about her parents and others, back in the U.S. I locate the guy who gave her the news, and ask him carefully Sharon's two questions, at our table and so both Sharon and I can hear. He says no, it's not from America. Huh? It's the front desk wanting to know if our bags are ready to be brought down to Room 51. Whew. Yes, we tell them. {I think he just didn't speak much English, didn't understand my question so just answered "yes".}

The afternoon rolls along, and before you know it, we're birding with Gilbert and the Brits, though Maggie stays back on the veranda. It's raining "nicely." Sharon's in the yellow trashbag pancho I so graciously bought for her. {Thank goodness, that $1.49 poncho saved me so many times.} I'm under the umbrella. All of us are tromping in the slop.

Steve and Tony ask if we've ever birded in Panama before, then they tell us this story about a spectacular time they had there, where the sleeping quarters are actually up in the canopy!! They say to google "canopy tower" to get more details, and I definitely will. Panama is the next country south of Costa Rica.

A little blue heron flies down the river. As I occasionally pull things out of my right front pants pocket, they have begun to feel sticky. I reach further down and find the culprit - a paper-wrapped menthol cough drop that has lost its solidity in the humidity, and is beginning to release its stickiness. Yuck. I wash off the coins and my knife with my drinking water, dry them on my shirt, and move them over to the left pocket. Then I ditch the offending drop.

Well, we get wet and muddy, and it is clear that the river has swollen from all the rain, but we get no tiger-heron, fascinated OR fasciated, the bird Gilbert was trying to get us.

Back to our room for a rest, then we begin walking over for dinner. Life is better now that we're not in the bungalows. We're totally under covered walkway from here to the dining room. On the way we get another green and black poison dart frog. Tonight there are almost no people here. What a change from the night we arrived.

We have signed up for the night walk. After dinner, we go back to the room, where we get our flashlights and all our rain gear. There about a dozen people or so, when we get to the meeting place, counting the leader and the trailer. We suppose the job of the trailer is not to let any of us get lost in the night.

I ask the leader if we might see any owls, just as we start out. He says up the hill, by a night light, there is a lake, and we may see some there. I remember a patch of dirty-looking water up by our bungalows. He can't mean that. I ask further, and Sharon tells the group that she knows where it is.

Then I say quietly to Sharon. "You don't mean that one by our bungalows, do you?" "Yes," she says." Then I say quietly to myself, so nobody can hear me, "You mean that little bitty shi—y one?" But the trailer guy hears me and laughs in such a way that he seems American rather than Costa Rican. I don't pursue it though.

We get daddy longlegs and a nice pale yellow iguana up in a tree. We get a cockroach of all things, {I think the guide must be desperate to show us anything so he is glad to point out cockroaches} and then, having walked all the way up to the bungalows, we flush a broad-winged hawk from its night roost. The leader didn't charge up his big flashlight, so I trade him mine, and he says, "Hey, this is really good." With all the lights on the hawk we get a glimpse of an orange eye. First I thought it was an owl, but an instant later, the wing shape countered that idea.

By this time, I've asked the trailer, whose name is Blair, his story. He's an American who came to Costa Rica with his girlfriend, and they are attached to the Friends of the Great Green Macaw, an outfit in Madison, Wisconsin, of all places. And he also has this job on some evenings.

We finish up the night, then walk back down the hill, past the fine lake, across the road, and are just about finished when...

"CORAL SNAKE!", yells Blair.

And there, crossing the road behind us is a snake I've never seen before. Without thinking, I put my boy scout jingle cap on and say, "Red and yellow, kill a fellow, red and black, friend of Jack." And this bad boy is no friend of Jack. But it's so little! Sharon's theory is that if you get something wrong the first time, you'll often remember it wrong. So she says, "Red and yellow, friendly fellow." But she'll be the first to tell you that she just stays away from any snake that is red and yellow and black.

Vehicles are passing fairly frequently and we're all standing in the highway, waving them over so the snake can get to the other side. It's taking his sweet old time too. I start snapping photos, but the spring action in my knees is coiled and ready to jump back in an instant. I perfected this action in Australia in '03.

The snake finally makes it to the grass, and our leader keeps saying, "It's ok. He won't bite. He's just out hunting." And stuff like that, which I can't quite relax about. I keep my knees ready.

Red and Yellow, Kill a Fellow

We all gather closer, when suddenly the snake goes from a snail-like pace to a frantic, hard-charging pace, but not in a straight line. If you played Pacman, you know how the men moved around the maze. Well, that's what the coral snake is doing, and he's in super fast hyperspeed.

We all jump back, me thinking that it's feeling surrounded and is going to attack. But the leader says, "No, no. It tastes that other little brown snake in the grass. It won't attack us." But I also notice that he's standing behind us. Clever.

Others saw the little brown snake, but I didn't. After about six seconds of this frantic movement, the snake slows down again, and even goes back out onto the highway, but then turns back around again and heads across, finally disappearing into the grass.

That was exciting, if I don't say so myself.

Three different sets of people in the group ask me if I can send my snake photos as attachments in an email, and I promise I will. People from Davis, California; Calgary and near Cleveland.

We talk a bit more to Blair, and he says he and his girlfriend do a presentation on Saturday evenings about the endangered great green macaws. We promise to be there, and vote on his choice of girlfriend. Plus listen to their presentation.

Birding Summary:
Trip Birds: Today 1, Entire Trip 287
Life Birds: Today 1, Entire Trip 137

We STILL haven't been skunked!

Upgrades: Silver-throated Tanager

Best Birds: Red-footed Plummeteer (hummingbird)

Mammals: none new

Reptiles: Coral Snake, Iguana (I'm going to stop mentioning iguanas)


Friday, February 18, 2005. Day 13 of 18. La Selva.

Today's the day we go to La Selva, birding mecca of Costa Rica. We go to breakfast, and from our table, we can see ringed and amazon kingfishers on the bridge at the same time. King me.

We go back to the room to get ready for our trip, then walk up to the front, where a taxi will pick us up. We get a nice upgrade of a rufous motmot on a feeder as we walk up, about fifteen feet away from us.

We watch a pair of Black-cowled Orioles bounce around a tree while we wait. The taxi driver picks us up, and it's raining a bit now. He drives the half-hour or so to La Selva, and takes us in to the reception building.

In no time, we have given them our voucher and meet young Leo, who has been assigned as our guide for the day. Unfortunately, there is only one scope, and somebody else has it this morning. Also, it is raining pretty good, but we'll do the best we can.

We get passerini's tanager as Leo explains that the so-called wet and dry seasons apply to the Pacific side of the mountains. He says that here, there is the rainy season and the rainy season.

We get a soaked SEMI-PLUMBEOUS HAWK in a secropia tree, then a couple of COLLARED PECARIS (pigs) on the trail. The rain doesn't stop a flyover of GRAY-RUMPED SWIFTS. Sharon saw one and I saw three.

A Great-crested Flycatcher waits for the rain to let up. We keep seeing and hearing RED-LORED PARROTS fly over in twos and threes. We also see more lesser greenlets and chestnut-sided warblers.

A spotted woodcreeper decides it has let up enough to leave the shelter of the tree and two birds fly in as it leaves. They are masked tityras. A FASCIATED ANTSHRIKE female is probably in a pair, but we don't see the male. I am getting used to the iguanas high in the trees.

A tropical gnatcatcher is fairly common, and that sight is interrupted by a flyover of about ten ORANGE-CHINNED PARAKEETS.

High in the sky are perhaps 150-200 black fultures kettling as if they are getting ready to go somewhere. The term 'kettling' comes from the way the liquid swirls when someone, say a witch for example, stirs the brew in a cauldron. Round and round, the bottom stuff rotating up to the top, then back down.

A great little LONG-TAILED TYRANT perches on a road sign, and a rufous-tailed jacamar is right below the tyrant. Past the jacamar is a very nice upgrade view of a crested guan. In the rain.

Long-tailed Tyrant (Internet)

More orange-chins flyover, and a variable seedeater marks the end of the rain. Buff-throated saltator is next, then 15 or 20 white-crowned parrots. Sharon gets a great upgrade of a red-lored parrot, resting in a tree.

A Chestnut-collared Woodpecker is very, very nice bird. Leo spotted it. Good job, Leo.

We move to several large trees surrounding the dining room next, where we immediately get lots of activity. Streak-headed woodcreeper, and then a SCARLET-THIGHED DACNIS, which we at first mistook for a blue dacnis. Can you imagine?

An olive-backed euphonia is high in the tree, and then the beautiful SHINING HONEYCREEPER. It is similar to the red-legged honeycreeper, but has bright yellow legs. A gorgeous male Green Honeycreeper is a trip bird.

We hear a squawking to our left, in the distance and at first one, then a second GREAT GREEN MACAW perches on top of some trees. As soon as the second perches, the first takes off and disappears, followed by the second. Bang bang. Tomorrow night, when they ask if any of us has seen this bird, we'll raise our hands. What a huge bird. We didn't have a scope and saw them only with binoculars. Leo ran to try to get the scope, but it was still in use. {We later learn that there are only about 200 Macaws in this area (most are up in Nicaragua for breeding) so we feel very lucky to have seen them.}

A Yellow-tailed Oriole feels like a lifer, but we had it in Belize in 2000. A female green honeycreeper looks like a leaf. Then we get a fantastic look at a shining honeycreeper. Wow, in just the right sunlight.

A lineated woodpecker is on a secropia tree behind the main dining room.

We move to the bridge, and standing here, the water is a good twenty feet below us. Leo says that in the January floods, the river was only one meter below the bridge. I cannot imagine! Sharon spots a big iguana sunning in a tree.

As we continue across the Puerto Viejo River, two white-crowned parrots are visible over by the iguana. As gray-rumped swifts fly over, Leo hears in the distance, then imitates the short-billed pigeon. It sounds like the "who-cooks-for-you?" of the North American barred owl. Leo says some people who eat iguanas call them tree chickens, as yet another one is sleeping in a tree, way up, as if it's trying for the sun itself.

I think I could get tired of iguanas. It's time to eat.

Leo takes off to have his lunch, and we use our lunch voucher in the dining room. We meet a man from Colorado who leads birding trips, mostly to Australia, but some to here also. He just finished a group, and is waiting to meet a new group tomorrow, who will be escorted down here by his wife.

Properly full, we meet with Leo at 1:30 and take off again. Leo has talked with other guides, and has learned that as opposed to yesterday's situation, a certain bird IS on its normal roost today. We are headed in that direction.

We have the scope now and it's not raining, in fact the sun is out. Leo gets on a bright-rumped attila, but it's away before we get it. We find a big spider web, and Sharon plucks on the golden orb's web, to test it. When the spider approaches, Sharon backs off. Sort of like poker, in which the spider calls Sharon's bluff. Sharon folds.

We hear a YELLOW-CROWNED EUPHONIA, but can't find it. A chesnut-mandibled toucan calls also.

On my local bird list, each bird has a ranking, from 1 to 6. Six means almost impossible, even for the best birders, and 1 means you'll probably get sick of seeing them. We have all the '1' birds, and all the '2' birds except perhaps three or so, and one of them falls as we get a pair of BANDED-BACKED WRENS. Leo gets them in his scope, and they are great to watch. They are going in and out of some kind of ball of dirt or leaves in a tree.

We get summer tanagers, baltimore oriole and then a pair of shining honeycreepers, high in a tree. There are lots of bromeliads.

A BLACK-CAPPED PYGMY-TYRANT is the smallest passerine (perching bird) in the world, says Leo. What a smart-looking little bird. {Great spotting by Leo as the bird is so tiny and not moving, perched on a limb.} We hear a DUSKY-FACED TANAGER, but we only find an orange-billed sparrow.

We continue, with Leo filling the bare birding moments with facts about La Selva and Costa Rican birds. He says long-tailed hermit's name is being changed to long-billed hermit (a hummer).

We get a wonderful baselisk lizard, but as opposed to the Pacific side, this one is a fantastic bright green color, like unripened bananas. It has cool yellow eyes, and blue spots along both upper sides.

We continue on, headed for an area called the arboretum (in English). After a bit, we come to it. There are trees from all over the world here, planted many years ago, and each has a plaque on a stand, telling what the tree is. Leo is checking high in the trees when he says, "There it is." He gets the scope on it, and Sharon gets on first, then I too get the GREAT POTOO.

With my camera, through Leo's scope {The bird is looking to the left and you can see his closed eye as he sleeps.}

His bill looks a little like that of a barn owl.

These birds are the same mottled brown color of the trees they choose as their day roosts, sitting motionless for hours, so they are hard to find. I'm not saying the bird has been in one spot for a long time, but Sharon has noticed a spider web anchored to the bird. We hear several OLIVE-THROATED PARAKEETS fly over, then a single Mealy Parrot, looking lonely by comparison.

We hear an Alder Flycatcher, then a BLUE-BLACK GROSBEAK. We continue on a loop that will take us back to the start, and we are now in a sort of swamp. We occasionally meet other groups. Leo tells us that it's time to go back, and I say, "Leo, what a fantastic day. The only disappointment I have is that we didn't get to see one of those little red frogs." Well, I'd estimate maybe twenty seconds later, Leo says, "There's one," and points to the ground, beside the walkway.

It's so tiny, the RED AND BLUE POISON DART FROG. It's maybe half an inch long. It's bizarre that something so small and so beautiful is poisonous. Just don't eat one, OK?

The "Blue Jeans" Poison Dart Frog

After getting our fill, we head back out, getting a nice boat-billed flycatcher. Leo and I see an agouti. Sharon was leading, and didn't see it, as it crossed behind us.

Hold it

We get back to the reception area, get some ice cream and a couple of souvenirs, then go to wait for our taxi. He's right on time at 5 pm, and in no time, we're back at Selva Verde Lodge.

We walk around a little, getting a nice green kingfisher, then go to dinner. Afterwards, we head back, and just before we get to the steps leading up to our place, we see three figures walking towards us in the dark, each pulling luggage.

Low and behold, it's the Sonoma Ladies, Rebecca, Eleanor and Suzanne, here for two nights! We hug and yell like old friends. {We ask them which room they are in and they say "50". And lo and behold, we are in "51" so they will be our neighbors.} We'll go back to the dining room and talk with them while they eat.

We tell them about our day at La Selva, and they want to go tomorrow, but haven't been able to connect with a guide. {The deal at La Selva, which is a research station, is that you cannot enter unless you have a guide aranged to go with you. They try to limit the numbers of people there to keep it more natural for the animals and birds. Great idea but difficult if you don't know that before getting here.} The front desk is trying to hook them up. After dinner, they come back to our place, and we look at a photo slide show of the days we've been apart, and then some of the video clips, to put them in a sleepy mood.

We agree to meet at 730 am for breakfast tomorrow. We'll try to go with Gilbert, on a guided tour to the forest across the river. It's been a most excellent day.

Birding Summary:
Trip Birds: Today 25, Entire Trip 312
Life Birds: Today 12, Entire Trip 149

Best Birds: Long-tailed Tyrant, Chestnut-colored Woodpecker, Scarlet-thighed Dacnis, Green Honeycreeper, Great Green Macaw, Blue Dacnis, Banded-backed Wren, Black-capped Pygmy-tyrant, Shining Honeycreeper, Great Potoo

Upgrades: Rufus Motmot, Crested Guan, Red-lored Parrot

Mammals: Agouti

Reptiles: OK, one more time, a bright green iguana

Amphibians: Red and Blue Poison Dart Frog (aka "Blue Jeans" Poison Dart Frog)


Saturday, February 19, 2005. Day 14 of 18. Gilbert at Selva Verde.

We're standing on the bridge with Gilbert, Suzanne, Rebecca and Eleanor. The water is very high, having wiped out the sunbittern's pollywog pools, but it's still way below the bridge itself. It's raining off and on, and right now it's on, lightly.

We move on across the bridge to the locked gate, and Gilbert opens it for us. FINALLY. It's amazing that we've been here (Selva Verde) as long as we have, and haven't yet been into this forest.

{Gilbert tells us that you have always had to have a guide to go into the forest, but I read comments in a tourist book they have at reception to give them feedback. In January of this year, someone wrote a long story about how they had gotten lost on the trails and were tired and scared when they got back. That person said, "you should have guides to take us out" so we suspect this is a new policy based on that incident as we have been able to go out on trails alone at all the other places we have visited except the national parks.}

Gilbert asks if we've seen white-collared manakins yet, and we say yes, but we'd love to see them again.

He stops at an area where he knows they often are, and unbelievably, makes exactly the same noises they make. But we don't get any responses to speak of. Or to chase.

The Sonoma girls want to see a poison dart frog, and Gilbert immediately points in the air, and says that rattling noise is the blue jeans frog. And within ten minutes, he has found three for us. They are great.

Now I could have imagined this, but I THINK that when the girls were looking at the third frog, I heard him mumble, "When you've seen one frog..." Pretty good.

We continue on, then Gilbert stops to tell about the BULLET ANT. This ant is about an inch long or a so, and both bites and stings. It's venom is so potent that it can make you paralyzed on one side, make you throw up, get tremendous headaches, and is very, very bad for you. He says before you put your hand on any tree, look there to make sure you're not about to tangle with a bullet.

OK, so we have another rule. Now what were those others? Hmmm...

The Bullet Ant

As I'm trying for video of the frogs, I hear a commotion and my name being called ahead. I wind up the video and Sharon has spotted a WHITE-NECKED PUFFBIRD, which is identified by Gilbert, of course. Love the puffbirds. Actually Sharon called out boat-billed flycatcher, and Gilbert, EXTREMELY excited, yelled the name very fast, two times in a row. I love to see a birding guide get excited.{And how remarkable, I saw the bird above me and we are looking up 30 feet or so at the bottom of the bird, can barely see any markings and Gilbert immediately knows which bird it is. Great knowledge.}

It's raining more now, and we can hear howler monkeys. Gilbert gets us a Piratic Flycatcher in the scope, for a nice view. Next come boat-billed flycatcher, lesser greenlet and a big woodcreeper, which Gilbert says is the BARRED WOODCREEPER, and that's another lifer. He is much larger than the other ones I recall.

We get violaceous trogon and masked tityra in the same tree, but a long way off and in the rain. As we're feeling good, Sharon asks Gilbert, "Gilbert, why don't they serve bananas in the dining room? They're all over the place, and are used on bird feeders." Gilbert says something about them being trash food. Bananas? The best blackberries I've ever tasted grow on the farm of Randy Cox and his girlfriend in Oregon, and are considered a pest, a weed. Anyway, whether you see blackberries as good or bad depends on you. Sort of like insurance or car salesmen.

Anyway, we're approaching a banana orchard now, trying for a grassbird or two that Gilbert knows we need. We get a masked tityra and a lineated woodpecker in the same tree.

We're looking for this particular bird which Gilbert says will be in the grass. We know the type of bird and everybody is scanning the grass in the rain when Sharon (wouldn't you know?) says she has the bird, UP IN A TREE. Gilbert can't quite believe it, puts the scope on it, and says something like "Cowabonga." Or maybe I just imagined that. He's tickled that it's in a tree, not the grass, and that Sharon found it. The OLIVE-CROWNED YELLOWTHROAT. {The bird was singing and I have a talent I never in my life before birding knew I had. I seem to be able to triangle in on a bird call and find the bird if it is singing constantly. A great thing to be able to do when you can hear the bird but not see it.}

A Great Egret flies over, and I can't believe this is the first one we've seen in Costa Rica.

Then it starts to really pour, and we head for the semi-protection of a big tree. There we stand, happy as can be, in the mud, soaked and having the best time.

Laughin' in the Rain

The rain finally lets up and we take off again.

Oooh, Gilbert has heard a great bird, but we don't, and he can't find it, the rascally wide-billed motmot. We turn and head back in the pouring rain, and a female ringed kingfisher flies under the bridge as we're crossing it.

From the bridge, we spot a keel-billed toucan and a montezuma oropendula high up in the trees, and then a chestnut-mandibled toucan flies over to complete the tropical scene. Two keel-bills perch on a tree for some great photos, if you have a huge telephoto, that is.

We go across the road near the garden, where we get white-breasted wood-wren calling. Then the soft call of the violaceous trogon leads us to him, as the red-footed plummeteer lets us know that he's in charge.

We are looking back across the road now, in a huge tree with perhaps twenty montezuma oropendula nests in it, and other tall, leafy trees to the right of it. We get olive-backed euphonias, chestnut-sided warblers, some kind of flycatcher, and we can hear, but can't quite see a yellow-crowned euphonia. We study harder and the soft colors of the blue-gray tanager are always nice. We then get a visual upgrade of a yellow-crowned euphonia, till now a heard-only bird for us.

Gilbert, Gilbert. Gilbert will get you the bird.

Two hummingbirds zoom over. Now I'd say one went 'zzzzzt' whereas the other went 'psssssst,' and Gilbert says, "Did you hear that?" That high-pitched one was a violet-headed hummingbird. Well, although we would normally claim it as a heard-only bird, we can't in all honesty say we heard and could identify the sound if we heard it again right now. So we let it go.

A big iguana... oh never mind. The battery on my still camera just ran out, and although this is not like me at all, I don't have a spare with me.

The beautiful pink flowers we saw yesterday are called Torch Ginger, says Gilbert. We get chestnut-backed antbird and then our morning tour is over. It's time for lunch.

The girls think they have a La Selva guide lined up, though they're not quite sure. Anyway, they take off for La Selva. We'll have lunch, bird by ourselves a little, trying for a visual upgrade of the blue-black grosbeak, then hear how the ladies did tonight at dinner.

Lunch has a funny dessert, with strawberries suspended in some kind of gel, which Sharon says tastes like that white paste we used back in grade school. Mmmmm. I eat the rest of hers, then mine. I have to disagree with her, though, I think it tastes much closer to Elmer's.

We go downstairs and there is some commotion. We follow it and come to one of the staff, holding a baby snake in his hand. Actually the snake is trying to move forward, and the man just keeps putting his free hand in front so the snake crawls onto it. It's pretty cool. I don't remember the name of this snake, but he says this snake, when grown, eats coral snakes! He says it is immune to the venom of the coral snake, something that the coral snake must learn, don't you think? Like the bad guy shooting a bullet at Superman, and never learning it won't do any good.

But hey, how come the idiot gunman, after emptying the gun of bullets, then throws the gun at Super? He thinks, "This oughta fix him."

Snake, Baby.

We go out for an afternoon on our own. We get summer tanagers, and then a most exciting thing happens. Out of the corner of my eye, I see a white shape drop from a tree to the ground, beyond some bushes. Sort of like Cap'n Ahab, a part of my mind has been on this certain white bird, the snowy cotinga. Could this be it? Could it?

Not today, Jose.

We go on to the garden and get howler monkeys, then nothing much till we get up near the white-collared manakin lek. Then the strangest plaintive whines, pleading fill the forest. We keep working our way there, and then we bump into a birding tour, who are looking at a tree full of chestnut-mandibled toucans, way, WAY overhead.

We head back down as a few bats fly over.

Now when you're in the forest, and you hear a sound, you stop, sort of cock your head, trying to get a direction. Sharon and I both listen, listen carefully, then at EXACTLY the same instant, we each point in the EXACT OPPOSITE direction from each other. Pretty funny, and we both crack up. I mean, how could she be so wrong?

We head back down by the torch ginger, and see the plummeteer again, now taking nectar from that flower. It's not sitting, just in a long hover. I'm still not tired of that bird.

We meet the girls as we come back, and they have a bad story to tell. The bottom line, as I remember it, is they didn't get in at all, but Suzanne (bless her little persistent heart) ragged on them till one of the best guides there promised to give them a private tour tomorrow morning. {They actually went out with a young man as their guide but Suzanne said she had to tell HIM what the birds were. He knew a lot about plants but not birds which is what they are after.} So I think they are all set up now. They will have to hustle back here quickly after birding the morning, as their pickup is tomorrow mid-afternoon.

We have dinner, then buy some T-shirts and go over to listen to the great green macaw story. It's incredible, but I won't go into it now. Maybe Sharon will elaborate. Anyway, Brian's girlfriend is wonderful, gifted, friendly and very bright. Way to go Brian.

{The Great Green Macaw Foundation is based in upper Wisconsin, which I love. I wonder who in Wisconsin got an interest in saving the Macaws. They are busy now in establishing more interest here in Costa Rica. You can "adopt" a nest tree by contributions and then they pay the landowner to not cut down these huge trees the macaws need to build their nests in. Most of the macaws nest in Nicaragua so they are trying to encourage nesting here. }

We head back to the room, for our last night here. Tomorrow we're off to Bosque de Paz, the Forest of Peace.

Good night. Now I have to burrow down into these blankets. Mmmmmmm.

Birding Summary:
Trip Birds: Today 5, Entire Trip 317
Life Birds: Today 3, Entire Trip 152

Best Birds: White-necked Puffbird, Barred Woodcreeper, Olive-crowned Yellowthroat

Mammals: none new

Reptiles: baby snake


Sunday, February 20, 2005. Day 15 of 18. To Bosque de Paz.

We bumped into a couple of people this morning (Tony and Steve, the Brits? I didn't make notes and am not certain) who had a taxi take them to the entry road at La Selva, where they birded at 6 am. That's supposed to be the absolute best time.

They saw some excellent birds, including the snowy cotinga. Dangit, I never thought about getting a taxi that early to go there. They said there was a large group there, and the view was a distant one through a scope.

[end of Selva Verde]


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