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

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