Wednesday afternoon, 2/16
On the drive to La Ensenada, we stopped at a roadside store/ice cream shop. The food that we had been eating so far was plentiful, delicious, fresh—and a bit bland (by our standards). Although he is a huge fan of rice and beans (which appeared at every meal—the perfect protein!l), their general lack of spiciness was getting to Z. So he found his way to a display of hot sauces in this shop. Roger—whom we later learned is also an aficionado of spicy foods, contrary to many other Costa Ricans—suggested a couple of different kinds. Z brought a bottle to every meal and offered it to the group. (A good number of folks took him up on the offer.) One of our group bought ice cream and passed it around the bus—a delicious fruitiness that (if I recall correctly) was guanábana (also known as soursop—right). We remembered that flavor from our Galápagos trip—our favorite of the many delicious tropical juices we had there.
As we turned onto the road leading to the lodge, Roger got Dago to stop the bus. In a bare tree just a few feet off the road was a Laughing Falcon. Great views! A White-throated Magpie-Jay appeared there as well, but Roger just noted it in passing. That seemed odd to me, since it was a very unusual bird for us Norteamericanos. We pulled into La Ensenada Lodge in time for lunch. As we gathered in the dining area after dropping things off at our cabins, Roger pointed out a Pacific Screech-Owl just a few feet above our heads, watching us rather disinterestedly (left). One of the 4 species of screech-owl found in Costa Rica, this little bird was only about 8 – 9″ tall. No scope needed for good views, but Roger set his up anyway. It felt as if the little bird was perched on our shoulders. After watching us mill about and point for a few minutes, it decided we were of no concern. (The photos below were taken through the scope.)
As we headed toward the lunch table, I realized why Roger hadn’t spent more time on the magpie-jay along the road. A pair of these birds literally patrolled the open-air dining area, looking for unattended food or scraps or leftovers—anything they could steal. (Members of the corvid—crow/raven—family, their behavior reminded me of a fellow corvid. Gray Jays, who are also called “camp robbers” for this mooching behavior, are common “companions” in the mountains of Colorado.) They perched in the rafters over the tables and swooped around at random intervals—random, at least to the human brain. (Click on the photo to see a larger version of one of the pair keeping an eye on us from the edge of the dining area. You’ll be able to see the curving topknot feathers on its head and the long tail.) Watch your plates and your heads!
La Ensenada had a lovely setting. We were in the group of duplex cabinas toward the dock. Each porch came equipped with a hammock (left). (And since it was so dry, La Ensenada provided a good opportunity for washing out some clothes—some of which are decorating our porch here. They had a better-than-average-in-Costa-Rica chance of actually getting dry.) Although Z tried out the hammock, I sat contentedly on the porch, taking in the beauty, avoiding the strong hot sun, and marveling at the refreshingly dry air—such a sharp contrast to our previous setting. After a short stay in the hammock, Z headed over across the grounds to the swimming pool (right). The grounds also included an extensive trail system; click the map below to see a larger version.
Waiting for the group to gather after the mid-day break, several of us watched a Spot-breasted Oriole fluttering around the mirror of one of the buses. This was our first experience with a problem we’d heard about concerning the Garrigues & Dean field guide (right). I had chosen to carry this guide (fewer than 400 pages) because it was much more compact than Stiles & Skutch (left). (Stiles & Skutch is the classic for the country but, with more than 650 pages, a bit more of a doorstop than an in-the-field guide.) The color of this beautiful bird was sooooo bland in the Garrigues & Dean guide; in reality, the yellow was so vibrant it practically hurt your eyes to look at it. (Well, okay—that’s a bit of an exaggeration…) We were able to ID it because, first, it was obviously an oriole (given those colors, that size, and that beak) and second, the spots on the breast ruled other orioles out. (And Roger later saw it and confirmed it—always reassuring.) But wow—beware of color issues in the field guide! (We found range map issues too, later in the trip.) I am still glad we toted this book around with us—and I recommend it to others. But just be aware of its limitations.
After the mid-day break, we walked down one of the roads from the lodge. A raucous call rang out just as we left the lodge—a bubbly, squeaky, squawking that sounded like someone was strangling Bart Simpson on karaoke night. (Click here for a recording of this song. For the full effect, you should plug your headphones into your computer and crank up the sound!) We watched a large bird tipping upside down, fluttering its wings as it projected this strange sound. The perpetrator—a Montezuma Oropendola, a huge member of the Icterid (blackbird/oriole) family. This bird was a male, probably about 20” long, beak to tail. (Click on either of the photos to see the remarkable colors of this bird—blue and pink on the head, a black bill tipped with orange, a deep chestnut body,a brilliant yellow tail.) In the U.S., people often stick halved oranges on nails for orioles to eat. In Costa Rica, the oropendolas simply help themselves, much to farmers’ dismay. They poke holes in oranges while they’re still on the trees to get to the juice. Imagine the frustration orange growers feel as they have to discard numerous harvested oranges because of oropendola holes. (Many thanks to Hattie, from the Trip Advisor Costa Rica forum, for this point!)
These birds weave massive pendulous nests—like a Bullock’s Oriole nest on growth hormones. The name “oropendola” comes from their tendency to stick their heads into these massive nests when tending nestlings, so that only their golden-yellow tails (left photo) show above the pendulous nest—hence, “oro-pendola.” Below is a photo of a nest by itself; the 2nd photo shows the same nest in the foreground and a measly mere-mortal oriole nest (perhaps a Spot-breasted Oriole) in the lower left-hand corner (the arrow). The oriole nest is a bit further back, so it looks smaller partly for that reason. But it’s not that much further back. The oropendola nest was about 5 feet long, while the oriole nest was about 8 – 10 inches long. Often occurring in colonies of 30 – 60 massive nests, they all hang from the end of slender branches that are too small to support the weight of predators. (Click on either photo to see a larger version.)
Another highlight toward the onset of dusk was a Turquoise-browed Motmot, very obligingly posing for us in great light. (The photo below was taken through the scope.) Look at those colors—a greenish and turquoise body, rufous back and breast, striking black mask and bill, that iridescent eponymous brow. And that tail! Just as with the Blue-crowned Motmot we saw along the Río Tarcolitos, the two central tail feathers (called rectrices) were bare down to those “racket tips.” This bird was flycatching—perching to spot some prey, sallying forth to snatch it, then returning to the same perch to watch some more—which made for easy viewing, scoping, and digiscoping.
We had a night walk scheduled that evening; unfortunately, we had a lovely full moon to contend with. Not much was stirring in the bright light—not even calling. Alas. The one thing that we learned was that, if you shine a flashlight at a spider, its eyes reflect back a blue-ish light. (This shine is light that is reflected back from a mirror-like structure behind the retina called the tapetum. Because the light passes through the eye twice, night vision is enhanced. Since humans don’t have tapeta, we have had to invent night-vision goggles.) In one depression in the ground, Roger’s flashlight revealed a myriad spider eyes looking back at us. The ground seemed to be sparkling with crystals. Lovely—although just a tad creepy too.
Click here to read about the next day’s adventures in the Gulf of Nicoya and around Ensenada NWR again.