Tuesday morning, 2/15
As we would every morning, we met before breakfast to do a bit of birding. Most notable birds—Roger zeroed the scope in on a calling Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl and everyone got a chance to get wonderful view of this little owl. (If only we had known about digiscoping at this point!) An unusual diurnal (rather than nocturnal) little owl, a pair was breeding in the area. This bird called the entire time we were out—made me think that the eggs hadn’t hatched yet, since it had so much time to hang out and call rather than chasing down food for perpetually hungry nestlings. We also found a Scaly-breasted Hummingbird on a nest near the main buildings; she was close to a bromeliad, so she was easy to refind to show others. A White-whiskered Puffbird posed cooperatively out on a wire.
After breakfast, we walked up a small river that ran through the Villa Lapas property—appropriately named the Tarcolitos (the little Tárcoles)—for a couple of hours. I was grateful for my hiking stick on this walk, due to uneven ground and river rocks. It wasn’t just a walk for birds, though. We paused for about 15 minutes to enjoy hundreds of tiny, dark, neophyte frogs of toads that had just passed through tadpole-hood. Abut 3/4′ long, they were all on the shore but began scrambling to the stream as we appeared. Since they were the same color as the shore, it was as if the sand itself were shifting and heading for the water. Insects abounded as well. Leafcutter ants abounded, marching in long lines holding pieces of leaves and flowers like large sunhats. Roger pointed out a moth cocoon and some kind of a beetle (below). (Insects are not my strong suit—can you tell?) Is that Roger checking his phone messages? Although the cell coverage in Costa Rica was superb for locals, that’s not what he was doing. Along the way, he would occasionally pull out his Samsung smart phone, scroll through the options, and play a bird song to try to entice a bird in closer. (The Samsung had a terrific in-phone speaker.) He could also whistle many of the calls—what a great skill and so much more interesting than the typical “pishing” used in the U.S. to try to bring out curious little birds.
Here in the thick vegetation, we got a first experience with a wondrous birding device—the laser pointer! I had only know a red-light laser pointer. But Roger had a green light pointer. Since most of the foliage was dark green, a green light was more easily visible than most other colors because green light was being reflected off the leaves. When I first heard this, it sounded counter-intuitive—wouldn’t the light just get lost in all of the green? But no—it was as if a green Tinkerbell were dancing around the bird in question. Totally amazing—Roger could aim the light just below the bird or above it—or even circle it as if putting a frame around it. A huge help for figuring out where to look. However, one did have to careful to be looking from an angle similar to where the laser pointer was. If I was too far to one side, I couldn’t see the light.
We heard a Blue-crowned Motmot (formerly called Amazonia Motmot—Momotus momota) calling its eponymous “mot mot” back in the vegetation. But it waited around long enough to make a scope appearance. Beautiful—and what a tail! A Red-legged Honeycreeper posed for scope views too. These little birds are probably an example of convergent evolution. They look like hummingbirds—about 4″ long with thin, decurved bills. (Click on the photo at the left for a larger, slightly blurry view.) But they are really in the tanager family. Zell had his small camera in his hand; Roger mentioned that he could probably get photos by holding it up to his scope. It took some fiddling to get the flash to shut off (put it on “program” rather than “auto”—figure this out on your own camera before you leave home!), but eventually they turned it off. Not the best photo ever, but it was the beginning of a lovely romance with digiscoping—and resulted far more photos than we’d have had otherwise. A good skill to bring home, too. (Let’s all welcome Z & T to the 21st century, shall we?) By the time we turned around, the river bed was getting steamy and still. I was glad to head to lunch.
Tuesday afternoon, 2/15
It was raining hard at Villa Lapas at the time we were to leave for Carara National Park, but Roger thought that it was probably just a localized downpour. So we and all of our rain gear clambered onto the bus. It was just raining lightly when we got to the Quebrada Bonita (lovely ravine or gorge) Ranger Station at Carara, and it had pretty much stopped as we headed out down the trail. Carara has 2 main trails: The river trail—sometimes referred to as Laguna Meandrica—a mile or so north of the ranger station, follows el Río Tárcoles; The Araceas Nature Trail—which is the one we took—heads off to the south at the ranger station. It was a very closed-in environment—and overcast to boot—so spotting birds was a bit of a challenge. The highlight/lowlight was a near-miss. Roger and 1 other group member were ahead of Z and me on the trail. Roger pointed to the left and whispered that a Great Tinamou was calling off in the vegetation. I could hear it clearly—one of the most distinctive calls I had heard while I was preparing for the trip. (Chicken-like ground-dwelling birds, all tinamous are much more commonly heard than seen.) As Z and I rounded a curve, we heard an huge rush of flapping of wings—reminiscent of a grouse on steroids exploding off the forest floor. Looking ahead, I saw Roger stamp his foot in frustration. The Great Tinamou we had been hearing had flown from very near the trail to deep in the woods. Just missed it! Alas and alack.
The hike ended at a different parking area, where Dago and the trusty bus waited for us. Driving back to Villa Lapas, we noticed that the Tarcolitos, which had been a whisper of a river in the morning, was raging mud red after the rains. Good thing we took the river walk before the rains or it might have been a river swim.
Wednesday morning, 2/16
Roger apparently hadn’t taken the advice of keeping his scope in an un-air-conditioned room; he had to go back to the main building to get something to wipe the condensation off the scope lens before the pre-breakfast walk around the grounds. Good to know that it’s worth the effort to remember that hint! Orange-chinned Parakeets flew overhead in a noisy flock. We got a quick lesson on telling parakeets from parrots when they’re flying overhead (which would be our most common view): Pointed tail, parakeet; squared-off tail, parrot. This walk provided one last highlight for Villa Lapas—a photographable (well, sort of) eponymous Scarlet Macaw on a zip line over the Tarcolitos. The name “macaw” may derive from macavuana—an indigenous Tupi word for a palm tree whose fruit these birds eat in Brazil. Macaws are large members of the parrot family. We had seen and heard several flyovers of these noisy, irritated-sounding birds across the days. But this was the first bird that actually stopped where we could see it and snatch a quick photo. (Click on the photo for a larger version.) A fine adiós from Villa Lapas.
Click here to travel with us to the tropical dry forests of La Ensenada Wildlife Refuge.