Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015 - A year of (in)activity

Looks like my pre-written posts have run their course. I do have most of the rest of my Panama trip written up in drafts, but the photos for them are not yet edited or compiled. I have been spending most of my free time lately doing family stuff and preparing for my next adventure! Anyway, here's my brief end-of-year summary to carry this blog into 2016, where it'll be quiet for at least the next few months... The title refers to my lack of posts this year but also to my abundance of overall activity as I logged over 45 000km by car and another 14 000km or so by plane this year!

January - I rang in the new year with friends in Guelph, birded for a day to kick of the year list around Niagara/Hamilton, worked for a week at Long Point, then headed home for two weeks of unpacking, repacking, trip planning and time with family before heading to Colombia. I'll eventually have some photos of that trip up on the blog and on Facebook, but that'll have to wait. By the end of the month my year list was at 440, mostly in the final 8 days!

February - With various friends (Josh, Steve, Dan, Dan, Adam, Jeremy, Avery) at various times, and at times alone, I wandered my way around Colombia, covering a good chunk of the country. This is an amazing country full of varied landscapes, colourful birds, friendly people and great fruit drinks. I'd highly recommend a visit. My year list also got a big boost, hitting 997 by the end of the month.

March - For most of the month I was still in Colombia, cleaning up a few new areas, seeing some new birds, and the lowlight: getting in a motorbike accident (hit by another motorbike). That took some recovery and almost ended my new bird potential in the country, but I managed to squeak in a few more with my limited mobility. I then had a busy week at home, unpacking, repacking and getting in all my medical visits before heading back to Long Point to start another season of work. Year list - 1199

April - Bouncing around Southern Ontario, Adam and I were once again on tower duty for Motus, meaning a lot of ground covered and not a lot of birds seen! It was nice to get most of the usual early migrants and visit some new areas of Ontario though. Year list - 1248

May - Starting the month at Long Point (and various other regions of southern Ontario), I once again managed to leave just as migration was picking up steam, and headed to the East Coast via Ottawa and Montreal. The rest of the month was spent in a mad dash around Nova Scotia and New Brunswick attempting to get all of our towers operational before migration was over. Year list - 1305

June - Starting off with a cleanup of missed towers, I had a bit of downtime mid-month before heading up to Cape Breton for a week of combined Bicknell's Thrush and Motus work. Getting to see this amazing place was definitely the highlight of the month for me, despite the lack of thrushes. Year list - 1315

July - Motus month - I was going pretty much non-stop this month with tower work, Bicknell's Thrush stuff in Cape Breton and northern New Brunswick, and helping on various projects utilizing our network. I also managed to make it through another year and turned 24. Year list - 1328

August - A few days of Motus work followed by three weeks of banding birds on Bon Portage Island before getting called off to do a few more days of Motus work took up the entire month! My year list also hit 1337 at the end of the month which was my total world list as of the end of 2014 - kinda cool!

September - I was lucky enough to kick off the month with a week-long visit to Sable Island to do some work radio-tagging Ipswich Sparrows, had a few days off in Wolfville, a couple days on Bon Portage and then spent the last two weeks of the month out on Seal Island. This was my third fall out on the south shore islands and I'll be going back for at least one more next year! Year list - 1345

October - A week on Seal was followed by three weeks and change on Bon Portage Island, finishing up the season of bird banding and radio-tagging. We also did a bit of a pilot for another project but I'll leave that for another post. Year list - 1355

November - Another month of bouncing around the Maritimes, doing a bit of data work in Wolfville and our usual rounds of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick to get all the towers ready for winter. Shorter days at this time of year definitely put a damper on doing anything besides work, but I still managed some good birds to bump me to 1360 for the year.

December - A few final days in New Brunswick to finish up tower work and two flights later, and I was back in the Sault. I basically just crashed at this point; after finishing up some data work for Motus I spent a few days in bed with an unknown illness. The rest of this month has been spent doing various family-oriented activities (including a trip to Sudbury for Christmas), completing the Sault Ste Marie Christmas Bird Count (first time I've participated in a few years!), and getting ready for my next big adventure. Tomorrow I leave to spend a little over two months birding the Southern Cone, working my way around Chile and Argentina by various modes of transport. I will be joined for most of it by Josh Vandermeulen and Adam Timpf, my partners-in-crime from various past trips (California 2011 (Josh), Panama 2014 (Josh), Motus does Canada 2014 (Adam), Colombia 2015 (Josh and Adam)), before spending the last few weeks on my own - assuming I don't join any birding parties along the way! Unless some crazy rarity lands on my feeder before it gets dark today, my 2015 year list is ending at 1364.

In 2016 I hope to see most/all of the specialties of the Southern Cone, continue my eBird streak of a checklist a day (still going since Jan. 1, 2012), and get caught up on all my photos and blog posts from various past trips. This last one especially will be quite the endeavour and I'm not sure I'll have the time but we'll see!

Happy New Year everyone!

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Panama - Chiriqui

Feb 23

After a (somewhat later than planned) breakfast, Steve and I spent the entire day at Los Quetzales, hiking from the main lodge up the trail past the continental divide (which actually put us into the province of Bocas del Toro), birding the whole way. Two of the first birds we saw were a pair of Eurasian Collared-Doves winging across the lodge grounds - unfortunately I didn't bother taking a photo since I had seen many at the start of my trip in Mexico. Why is that unfortunate? Turns out the doves would be a first record for Panama, but the Panama records people don't accept records without a photo or a specimen... This species is expanding in Central America though so I imagine in 10-20 years the Panamanians will have more collared-doves than they care to. Anyway, despite a nearly continuous light mist we had a great hike, adding a good chunk of the highland specialties to our Panama list and also finding four new trip birds for myself (Prong-billed Barbet, White-tailed Emerald, Brown-billed Scythebill and Spotted Barbtail).

The constant wind at this elevation causes the trees to rub against one another and form cool 'puzzle' patterns

Freshwater crab

Flame-throated Warbler

Many good plant photo ops in the tropics!

Once again I'll let the eBird checklist do the talking, but I will summarize and say that this is a great place to bird if you're in the area! Since we had planned ahead and ate a monster breakfast, we were able to stay out pretty late into the afternoon, and didn't get back until nearly dinnertime! As nice as the lodge and its grounds are, the food there isn't great and is very expensive (as I discovered the previous evening), so we opted to eat elsewhere. There are some great (and cheap) restaurants in Cerro Punta and Volcan - if you have a car and can get around it is well worth the extra driving!
Running trip total: 639
Panama: 98

Feb 24

Our original plan for today was to do another hike up above Los Quetzales to clean up anything we'd missed on the previous day, but since we had done quite well there we opted to head a little farther afield. Our trail of choice was El Respingo, in the Volcan Baru National Park, which turned out to be a very good decision! To get there, you have to park along the main road (unless you have high clearance?) and walk in a few kilometres to the headquarters. That didn't really bother us though as this road turned out to be great for birding, highlighted by Three-striped Warbler, Costa Rican Brush-Finch and no fewer than 9(!) Resplendent Quetzals, three of which were adult males with the big tail streamers.

The bottom of the road up to El Respingo

Along the way we ran into a guide and his two clients, and after pointing out a few of the Quetzals to them, he gave us some tips on a reliable spot for Spangle-cheeked Tanager, one of only a few PA/CR highland specialties I had left to see. Farther up the road we ran into a backpacker, and after chatting for a few minutes we actually found a pair of Quetzals to show him! Although not a birder, he was impressed with these birds, but who wouldn't be? We eventually made it to the top, where we talked with the friendly ranger and took some pictures around the garden for a while.

The view from the ranger station

Volcan Baru from El Respingo

Eventually I went off to find the trailhead for the tanagers (also finding Fiery-throated Hummingbird and Sulphur-winged Parakeet in the process), and Steve managed to wander off in the opposite direction (up the mountain). After retrieving Steve, we headed down the trail and found a mixed flock right where the guide had told us to look for the tanagers. Sorting through it, we managed to find exactly 0 tanagers, and the flock moved off up the trail. At that point we were a bit discouraged but I heard a call that sounded tangara-esque, so we chased down the flock again. This time, a group of 7 Spangle-cheeked Tanagers had joined the party! We spent a while getting awesome looks at this spectacular tanager, along with some mediocre photos before the flock once again moved off.

Spangle-cheeked Tanager

As that was the last of our targets recently reported in the area, we slowly birded our way back to the car and went for lunch in Cerro Punta before heading back to the lodge. Near Los Quetzales there is an orchid garden called Finca Dracula that Steve wanted to visit, unfortunately we got there just as it was closing and so weren't allowed to go into the actual nursery. We did take a quick walk around the garden though, accompanied by one of the town dogs that ended up following us around for several hours, even sleeping outside the dorm room! After dinner we settled in to make a plan of attack for the next few days. You may have noticed that the running trip total has sort of stalled-out at this point - this is mainly because the species makeup in the western highlands of Panama is extremely similar to that of the highlands in Costa Rica. This is about to change as we head further east though!

Scenic flowers above Los Quetzales

A cool plant at the orchid garden

Steve with his entourage of local beasts
Running trip total: 642
Panama: 118

Friday, December 25, 2015

Costa Rica - Osa to Panama - Chiriqui

Feb 21

Seeing as I'd missed the sicklebill and the euphonia the day before, I was at Quebrada Pizote for first light, wading my way up the stream (ok, it was ankle-deep so wading maybe isn't the right term) to the nest. It turned out my luck had changed, and after a few minutes of waiting one of the White-tipped Sicklebill pair came in to feed its young! The day before we had been unable to see any movement in the nest and were a bit worried, but I guess the young are just really good at staying still when the parents aren't present. Not long after the sicklebill arrived, a second one came in and was promptly chased off. That was the last I saw of either of them, as I decided to leave it at that and not disturb the nest site any further! Along my walk back I had great views of a male Spot-crowned Euphonia and had a male Garden Emerald at the hostel as a bonus. Wandering over to the Bosque lodge, I went for another lap of the trails, adding Bicolored Antbird, Broad-winged Hawk, Streaked Flycatcher, Buff-throated Foliage-gleaner and White-vented Euphonia for the trip, as well as getting awesome views of two skittish male Great Curassows and seeing another Spot-crowned Euphonia.

A blurry photo of BdRT's main attraction - Black-cheeked Ant-Tanager

Baird's Trogon at a nest that I found!

 The Bosque del Rio Tigre Lodge

By late morning it was time to go, and I slowly made my way back to Puerto Jimenez, birding the road on the way to add Pale-breasted Spinetail, my last new trip bird in Costa Rica and my 400th species in only 9 days in the country! My rental car was due to be returned at 4:30pm, but since I had cleaned up pretty much everything new I could see within a reasonable drive of PJ, I decided to call it a day early and spend a relaxing afternoon at the hotel (Cabinas Jimenez). This was complicated somewhat when the hotel manager was out somewhere, pushing my check-in time back for a while, and then the rental agency was closed! I waited around for quite a while, getting some weird looks from people who walked by me several times, before someone arrived who knew the guy who was supposed to be working and called him up. It turned out he wasn't planning to come in to work until 4:30 as I was the only person who had any business that day and they weren't expecting me until then! Aghhh! With my afternoon having been pretty well wasted, I went to the hotel and had a nice skype chat with my parents, who I hadn't really talked to for a few weeks other than quick emails to say I was still alive!
Running trip total: 632

Feb 22

The ferry from Puerto Jimenez to Golfito (the fast one, anyway) leaves around 6am, so I was at the wharf around 5:30 to ensure I got a ticket. To kill the time I scanned the bay and the mudflats but didn't turn up anything too interesting. The ride across was fairly uneventful - I was hoping to do some birding but the confined space and spray-covered windows pretty well nixed that possibility.

Sunrise from the ferry to Golfito

Arriving in Golfito I hopped into a collectivo headed for the border town of Paso Canoas, where you have to get out of whatever transportation you're in and go through the customs on foot. Something I was vaguely aware of was that Panama requires you to have proof of $500 - whether this is cash-in-hand or a bank receipt with a balance higher than that doesn't really matter. I unfortunately had neither of those on me at the time, and seeing as there was no bank around I figured I was pretty screwed until the guy asked if this was my first time in Panama. Since it was, he let me go with a warning! Seeing as carrying $500 cash isn't a great idea, I would recommend having a recent bank receipt to show if you are crossing into Panama anytime soon - I think they are working to relax or change this law but who knows (Dec 2015 edit: it appears they now allow you to show a credit card, according to the website). Anyway, other than that my crossing went smoothly and I quickly found a bus to Concepcion, where a short walk took me to a transfer station and I was en route to Cerro Punta. Along the way I added my first trip birds for Panama, with Crested Oropendola and Pearl Kite along the road. Working our way up in elevation, we eventually got to Cerro Punta (the end of the bus line), where I had a delicious lunch for $2 (you can find food and beer for ridiculously cheap in Panama!) before continuing on foot to my final destination - the Los Quetzales lodge in Guadalupe, about 3km further up the road. I didn't make it 100m before a truck stopped and asked if I needed a ride to Boquete (a long drive around the mountain!), and was surprised to learn I was only going to Guadalupe. I happily hopped in the back and what I had initally thought would be a half-hour trek up the road turned into a few minutes' ride.

Unintentionally hitchhiking once again

 The main lodge at Los Quetzales

It turned out Guadalupe was pretty tiny and the hotel was almost right at the intersection where the guy dropped me off. After checking in (to the dorm, not to the fancy cabins unfortunately) and ditching my stuff, I went for a wander up to the forest to kill time waiting for Steve Pike (one of my compadres for the Panama leg of the trip) to arrive. After taking a wrong turn and wandering into some farm fields, I eventually found the path up to the cabinas. I had a nice walk through this area, adding Red-faced Spinetail for the trip and finding a gorgeous male Resplendent Quetzal along with a good number of Panama/Costa Rica highland specialties. Since Steve was due to get in sometime in the late afternoon, I wandered my way back to the lodge and spent some time meandering around the gardens, taking photos of the various hummingbirds coming in to the feeders and the flowers. Steve ended up getting in just as I was going to bed - much later than expected but we cracked a beer to catch up and plan the next few days!

A phone-binned Resplendent Quetzal!

White-throated Mountain-Gem

The forest above Los Quetzales

Since the Panama leg of this was pretty much a trip in itself, I will add a new tally at the bottom!
Running trip total: 635 (225MX, 171BZ, 239GT, 400CR)
Panama: 68

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Costa Rica - Osa

Feb 19

Last night I had tried to sleep in my car, but after deciding that was far too hot and cramped, I set up my tent at some late hour, and ended up waking up well before my alarm...oh well - it was worth it to hear a Tropical Screech-Owl as I was packing up my tent. I made it to the Rio Rincon bridge around sunrise and spent most of the morning walking the highway as well as the road out to Drake Bay.

 Rio Rincon in the early morning light

The road to Drake Bay

As my eBird checklist shows, this was highly productive! This spot is definitely worth a stop if you happen to be on the Osa. Highlights included Turquoise Cotinga, Yellow-billed Cotinga (12 of them, representing a good-sized chunk of the population of this endangered species), Uniform Crake, Golden-naped Woodpecker, Mangrove and Charming Hummingbirds, a female White-crested Coquette and Black-bellied Wren.

Yellow-billed Cotinga

Partway through the morning I ran into a group of birders scanning from the bridge, and went to see if they'd found any goodies. After exchanging info (I let them know where I'd seen some of the goodies listed above), we headed our separate directions. I slowly made my way toward Puerto Jimenez, stopping along the highway to look for some open-country species (mainly seedeaters, but I added Smooth-billed Ani and Southern Lapwing for the trip) before stopping at Playa Sandalo for lunch. This was a very pleasant spot, with some nice mangroves (Mangrove Hummingbird) as well as a few larger trees, a stream and a nice beach (Louisiana Waterthrush, Whimbrel, Common Tern).

Mangrove Hummingbird

 The mangroves at Playa Sandalo

Afterward I went into town to check out the mudflats and scan the bay, turning up a decent variety of gulls, terns and shorebirds (Franklin's Gull, Elegant Tern) as well as a few Brown Boobies cruising over the bay. After doing a quick cruise around town to orient myself, I headed out toward Dos Brazos, basically just slowly driving the road and getting out every now and then to look at promising habitat. This added Gray-headed Chachalaca, Scrub Greenlet, Ruddy-breasted Seedeater and Yellow-crowned Euphonia for the trip. A quick stop in Dos Brazos didn't produce anything new for the trip, but I had a good-sized flock of Costa Rican Swifts cruising around which was nice. Making my way back to Puerto Jimenez, I spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing by the bay and drying out my tent (which I hadn't taken out since it got rained on in Tikal - aghh!!!). Luckily the tent was fine and quickly dried in the hot afternoon sun. This turned out to be one of my highest-diversity days of the trip with 157 species, and put me on the verge of cracking 600 for the trip, a number I had set as my sort-of-expected goal before leaving! I spent the night at a campground on the edge of PJ, with nice cold showers and free wifi from a restaurant across the street.

The marina at Puerto Jimenez
Running trip total: 599

Feb 20

I was once again up very early, as I hoped to be back down in Dos Brazos for sunrise. Waking up to bird #600 of the trip (Striped Owl) calling outside my tent was a good omen! Making it to Dos Brazos for first light, I added Brown-hooded Parrot to the trip list before walking up the trail along the river near the Bosque del Rio Tigre lodge. Discovering that this trail didn't go as far as I thought it did without requiring boots or water shoes, I wandered around near the entrance to the lodge, checking out some mixed flocks. At this point one of the workers noticed me and disappeared - after a few minutes the lodge owner came out to talk to me, and it turned out to be Abraham, the guide I had met at the Rincon bridge the day before! He invited me in for a snack and after chatting for a bit, said he had to go do something but I was free to walk the trails if I wanted. Score! I ended up spending most of the day here, birding both on my own and with some of the guests (Dave and Laura from Ohio, hope the rest of your trip went well!), and racked up a pretty decent list. The obvious highlight was Black-cheeked Ant-Tanager (my third and final Costa Rican endemic for the trip), which were fairly easy to find along the trails, but there were numerous other good birds around (Marbled Wood-Quail, Black-hooded Antshrike, Long-tailed Woodcreeper, Black-tailed Flycatcher, White-winged Becard, Scaly-breasted Wren among others) to keep me occupied.

Blue Ground-Dove at the rice feeder

Around noon I walked back to Dos Brazos (Bosque is right on the edge of town) to grab some lunch, only to discover that the only restaurant in town was closed (out of food)! One of the locals took pity on me and invited me in for lunch with his family - typical Costa Rican hospitality! After a delicious lunch I made my way across town to check in at the hostel (finding American Pygmy Kingfisher along the way), where for something like $12 I had a whole cabin to myself. I relaxed for a bit then headed back to Bosque to meet up with Dave and Laura for some birding along the Quebrada Pizote, a small stream that is reliable for a few Osa targets. It turned out that my hostel was right beside the entrance to the trail that runs along the stream, and I hadn't even realized it! Our main target was White-tipped Sicklebill, which was nesting along the stream somewhere. We walked up the stream and found the nest without too much effort, and then just sat and waited...and waited...and waited. We gave up with not much daylight left, having missed the hummingbird but adding Blue-crowned Manakin for the trip. On the way out we had a very close encounter with my lifer Olivaceous Piculet, watching it pull a grub out of a small tree about 1m away! It seemed pretty oblivious to our presence until it had it's prize, at which point it promptly took off. After driving Dave and Laura back to Bosque (where we watched some Black-faced Antthrushes at the compost pile), I settled in at the hostel for the night, having an amazing dinner with the owners and the only other guest, a guy from Germany who was wandering the country for a few months, seeing the sights and learning Spanish.

Olivaceous Piculet with grub

Running trip total: 623

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Costa Rica - Cerro de la Muerte to the Osa Peninsula

Feb 17

I was up well before dawn today, with one particular bird in mind. I had heard that this almost mythical bird could probably be seen here with some luck, and so I wandered down the trails in the pitch-dark, cold morning air. Once I was in the forest proper I played a tape, listened, and heard...nothing. Not really surprising considering it was a bit windy. I walked a little further and tried again, and off in the distance, I heard what sounded like a response! Getting a bit closer I played the tape again, and again got a response, seemingly a bit closer this time. Just then, a big gust of wind kicked up and the wind didn't die down again until after dawn - gahh. The bird in question was an Unspotted Saw-whet Owl, a bird of high-elevation cloud forests in Central America, with few records from anywhere! I spent the rest of the morning wandering the trails behind the Restaurante La Georgina, finding a fair number of the highland specialties (Wrenthrush, Silvery-fronted Tapaculo, Black Guan, Resplendent Quetzal, Buffy Tuftedcheek, Black-capped Flycatcher, Yellow-winged Vireo, etc). Partway through the morning, Flame-throated Warbler became #1000 on my AOU (North America) life list.

The bamboo at La Georgina

By mid-morning I figured I had exhausted the flocks that were moving behind the restaurant, so I grabbed some lunch and went off to explore some other areas. The Savegre lodge is one that gets a lot of attention as being a reliable place to see Quetzals as well as most of the other highland specialties, and so that is where I headed to spend the afternoon. They allow visitors to walk the trails for a nominal fee, so if you're on a budget you could consider doing something similar to me! Anyway, the birding here was fantastic; being at a lower elevation than La Georgina there is higher diversity, although you miss out on some of the birds of the super high-elevations. Birds here that I didn't add earlier at La Georgina included Purple- and White-throated Mountain-Gems, Barred and Sulphur-winged Parakeets, Streak-breasted Treehunter, Dark and Ochraceous Pewees, Black-and-white Becard and Golden-browed Chlorophonia (this last in the same bino view as a Swallow-tailed Kite!). I also had some fantastic looks at a family group of Spotted Wood-Quail at the very top of the trails.

The view from up above Savegre

Birding along the highest trail at Savegre

 The costaricensis subspecies of Red-tailed Hawk

White-throated (Gray-tailed) Mountain-Gem

After walking all of the trails on offer, I made a brief stop at the feeders near the lodge proper, where there were quite a few hummingbirds along with Flame-colored Tanager, Slaty Flowerpiercer and Gray-breasted Wood-Wren among others. By now it was getting a bit late in the day, so I headed back to the restaurant for some dinner while watching the hummer feeders before calling it a night.

Fiery-throated Hummingbird, one of my most-wanted hummers on the trip!
Running trip total: 549

Feb 18

Another early morning trying for the Unspotted Saw-whet behind the restaurant did turn up a Dusky Nightjar but unfortunately no owls. I walked the trails for a few hours, finding mostly the same birds as yesterday before it was time to head on to my next destination. One major highlight of the morning, however, was a Chiriqui Quail-Dove that I watched for about 30 seconds on the trail at dawn before it saw me and took off into the forest. This would be my last new highland bird for Costa Rica, as by mid-morning I was en route to the Osa. I also spent quite a while following a fairly tame Black-billed Nightingale-Thrush around, amused by its antics - it didn't seem to mind the company.

Black-billed Nightingale-Thrush

I should mention at this point that I had forgotten how much gas cars use at high elevations, and was pretty much out as I left the restaurant. Luckily, the 47km to the nearest gas station is 99% downhill, so I coasted almost the entire way! After gassing up I hit the road, making a few stops to take pictures of the view, check out the wader action in Domincal and grab lunch at the intersection of Hwy 2 and 245. Then it was on to the Osa proper, where I stopped off at the Rio Rincon bridge for the afternoon, and walked the highway up to the mangroves before heading a few km down the road to Drake Bay. Far and away the highlights of my (very hot) walk were White-crested Coquette (male) and Yellow-billed Cotinga, two species which I had hoped to see but was not expecting given the time of day! Other new species included some south Pacific specialties like Costa Rican Swift, Baird's Trogon, Fiery-billed Aracari and Riverside Wren, along with more widespread species such as Panama Flycatcher, Brown-throated Parakeet, Striped Cuckoo and Striated Heron (this last one rare in CR). After dinner I made my way back up the road a bit to the El Chontal campground for the night.

 Views on the way to the Osa
Running trip total: 570

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Costa Rica - Sarapiqui to Cerro de la Muerte

Feb 15

I woke up this morning feeling better than the night before, although still nowhere near 100%. Given my short visit and tight schedule though, I couldn't afford to lay around in bed all day so I headed out to bird a place I had wanted to visit on my first Costa Rica trip but which wasn't considered especially safe at the time. That was the famous Braulio Carillo NP, a large chunk of forest perfect for mid-elevation Caribbean slope species. Unfortunately most of the park is inaccessible due to security issues in the past, but the birding around the ranger station and the little garden just outside the park is fantastic. En route I picked up two Great Green Macaws (I had good luck with this species on this trip!), and an hour or so later I pulled in to the El Tapir gardens, famous for being a reliable spot to see Snowcap. Since I got there before the groundskeeper was around, I wandered the garden, checking every flower, and didn't find a Snowcap. I did find some new birds however, with Violet-headed Hummingbird, Cinnamon Becard, Ochre-bellied Flycatcher, Pale-vented Thrush and an Emerald Tanager. The garden is pretty small, so after a little while I decided to wander down the trail into the actual forest, where I quickly found a decent mixed-species flock, adding Tawny-crested Tanager, Black-and-yellow Tanager, Brown Violetear, Yellowish Flycatcher and a few other species for the trip. The main highlight of this side adventure came when a I saw a medium-sized blur and flash of wings as a bird flew down the trail and landed right beside me in the undergrowth - I didn't even need the bins to see it was a Purplish-backed Quail-Dove! My first seen species of this group, and what a way to see it! It proceeded to slowly walk away, and after a few seconds had vanished into the gloom. As the morning was starting to get on and it looked it was threatening to rain, I wandered back down the trail to the gardens, picking up Tawny-capped Euphonia along the way. I made it back to the gardens just as the sky opened, and I took shelter under one of the overhangs to wait it out, still hoping for a Snowcap. It didn't take long, and during a brief respite in the rain, a brilliant male Snowcap zipped out from wherever it was hiding and fed around the garden before disappearing again. Great looks but unfortunately the camera was safely in the car away from the rain! After paying the gardener (who had arrived by this point), I made my way down the road to the Quebrada Gonzalez ranger station, where the rain had finally let up.

Heading into Braulio Carillo

After a quick snack, I headed out, and hadn't gotten far before I found a Blue-and-gold Tanager at the edge of the parking lot. Farther up the trail, I caught sight of some other birders, and since it was a little slow, I upped my pace so I could see what they'd had. Imagine my surprise when one of them turned out to be Andrew Spencer, whom I'd met five years earlier when he stopped by my residence building at Guelph to break up his road trip from Colorado to Massachusetts! He kindly invited me to join his group (they were all photographers, so I think he was happy to have another birder to help spot!), and we walked around the loop, picking up such goodies as Black-headed Nightingale-Thrush, Ocellated Antbird, White-ruffed Manakin, Striped Woodhaunter, Dusky-faced Tanager, Dull-mantled Antbird, and the major highlight - a Sharpbill! Getting good scope views of this beastie (in its own family, no less) was quite amazing, and unexpected, although this is one of the better sites for it in the country. At the end of the loop, Andrew had to continue on to the gardens (where I'd just come from), and after a quick snack I decided to make another loop of the trail at QB. This turned out to be a great idea, as not far up the path I heard an odd trogon calling. My suspicions raised, it took me a minute to pick it out, and it turned out to be a Lattice-tailed, one of my main targets here, and a species we'd missed on the first loop. Other goodies picked up on this second lap included Streak-chested Antpitta, Purple-crowned Fairy, Ashy-throated Chlorospingus and White-crowned Manakin.

Lattice-tailed Trogon

Streak-chested Antpitta

Then it was time to go, and I made my way back toward PVdS, stopping at a roadside restaurant (soda) for my first proper meal in 24h. Interestingly this picked me up two new species for the trip, with a Hoffmann's Woodpecker and a Southern Rough-winged Swallow, along with a cheeky Summer Tanager who was stealing bits of food off the tables. Back at the posada, I rested up a bit before heading out with Bob and Jan to bird a track behind the police station, where Alex had mentioned there were some nesting macaws.

Macaw nesting trees

This turned out to be a great little walk, and we found nesting trees of both Scarlet and Great Green Macaws, along with other nice birds like King Vulture, Bat Falcon and Collared Aracari. Afterward Bob and Jan treated me to dinner at a great little shop up the road from the police station (don't remember the name!) - thanks guys!!! Back at the posada, Alex showed me a Red-eyed Tree Frog that was hanging out by one of his little ponds, one of the emblematic species of the country which was new for me!

Red-eyed Tree Frog!
Running trip total: 490

Feb 16

Feeling much better this morning, I walked over to a little dirt road that Alex had recommended to me the day before. This went back through some farmers fields (and through some locked gates), across a few streams and down to the Sarapiqui river, and turned out to be way more productive than I thought it would be! I'll get right to the point and say that the highlights here were Snowy Cotinga and Keel-billed Motmot, two very high-quality birds! Other new trip birds were Band-tailed Barbthroat, Black-throated Trogon, Olive-crowned Yellowthroat, Yellow Tyrannulet and White-throated Crake. This is definitely a good spot to see disturbed-habitat species and a decent alternative to La Selva if you want to avoid the price tag associated with that spot (although La Selva definitely has more birds along with the whole primary forest thing).

Snowy Cotingas!

I cut my time on the road a bit short, as I had a fair bit of driving to get done today, and headed back to the posada to finish packing and check out (after a delicious breakfast!). I headed back to San Jose (through the gorgeous Braulio Carillo NP), and somehow made it through the city without running into much traffic - bonus! Heading up into the mountains I stopped at a restaurant/grocery store with a fantastic view to grab some lunch before continuing to my main destination - the antenna maintenance road on Cerro de la Muerte, one of the highest points in Costa Rica at 3450m!

Driving back through Braulio - great scenery!

Lunch with a view

It was quite windy at the top, but without too much effort I found a few of my targets (Volcano Hummingbird, Sooty-capped Chlorospingus, Slaty Flowerpiercer and Volcano Junco, #500 for the trip!). After wandering around for a while and not turning anything else up (there aren't a whole lot of birds at this elevation), I decided to make my way down the road. On the way up I had seen a little track going off into some good-looking habitat, so I stopped here on the way down. It turned out to be a good choice as I had all of the above species along this road as well as two other very good birds - Timberline Wren and Peg-billed Finch! One of the finches was a freshly-fledged juvenile, still being fed by its parents, and I had great looks despite the terrible photos. Having seen everything expected here, I moved on to my accommodations for the night at the Restaurante La Georgina, not far from the radio towers and at something like 3000m elevation. A quick walk around the gardens before dark yielded Sooty Thrush, Green Violetear, Fiery-throated Hummingbird and Large-footed Finch for the trip. Luckily, they provided me with a mini-heater for the room as the nights here got fairly cold!

Cerro de la Muerte

The birdy side-track

Volcano Junco
Running trip total: 508