Saturday, 2/19—the boat trips
While I was hanging around the bus for the early morning departure, Dago (our driver) appeared with a woman by his side. He introduced her to me—his wife! She was a cook at the lodge and the Caño Negro area was his home. How great that he got spend the night with family! Both he and Roger had to be away from their families so much—it seems like a challenging way to make a living.
The bus ride from the lodge to the boat dock was a short one (map above, from Lawson, 2009). As we piled off the bus and headed toward the water in the morning, the birds started appearing. A Gray-necked Wood Rail foraged on the shore a ways away from us. Man—that was one of the fastest moving rails I’ve ever seen! (The vague blur in this photo gives you a sense of how quickly it moved.) As we followed the path toward the dock, a very cooperative Barred Antshrike flitted around the close trees; we spent considerable time trying to get everyone the chance to see this not-so-common bird.
At the dock, we met Ernesto, the pilot of the boat. He and Roger made a terrific team, since Ernesto was superb at spotting and identifying birds too. Roger took a post at the front of the boat; with Ernesto at the back, they had the river banks well covered. I enjoyed listening to them spy a bird, discuss the possibilities, come to a conclusion—all in Spanish before Roger switched to English for the rest of us. At least in Costa Rica, local birders tend to use the English names for the individual species. In Spanish, a hawk—any hawk—is a gavilán; a duck—any duck—is pretty much a pato. (Perhaps only English-speaking countries have the luxury of having enough spare time and compulsion to apply specific names to species.) Some species do have specific names in Spanish—e.g., the Fiery-throated Hummingbird is called “fiery” in Spanish—but those primarily derived from the English name and were based on the English name. So I had fun getting an early inkling of what birds Ernesto and Roger were considering just by keeping my ears open for a species name. That way, I had a bit of a head start to figure out just what might be lurking off to the side. Believe me, I could use all the help I could get…
We saw a number of herons. An adult Black-crowned Heron (below right) seemed to be staring wide-eyed at us as we passed within a few feet. A juvenile Black-crowned Heron (below left) high-tailed it off down a branch as we approached. Unlike the characteristic black, white, and gray of the adult , the juvenile is brown with white spots on its feathers. Juvenile Black- and Yellow-crowned Herons look a lot a like. However, you can tell this one is a young Black-crowned because the white spots are very prominent and the lower bill is yellow. (The spots are much harder to see on a young Yellow-crowned and its bill would be all dark.)
At one point, Roger heard a Plain Wren in the mangroves—rather odd, given it’s not known for hanging out along riversides. However, a swath of grasslands stretched behind the mangroves, so perhaps not all that odd. The song was loud and clear: (Click here for a sample.) He used the bird song recordings on his Samsung phone and eventually coaxed the bird into view—brief, but still identifiable.
Getting photos—heck, just getting views—of birds lurking amidst the mangroves was quite the challenge. For instance, here were our views of a Prothonotary Warbler. The only thing we had going for us was the fact that he was so bright yellow. (Click on the photos for a larger version—he’s really there…)
We also caught a glimpse of an Orchard Oriole, hidden behind the mangrove leaves and working on getting nectar from blossoms. (You’ll need to click on the photo to see a larger version. The oriole is pretty much dead center, behind a group of blossoms.)
One of the best things about the river was its many kingfishers. The Americas have 6 species of kingfisher; all 6 can be found in Costa Rica. The Frío was “Kingfisher Central” for us this day. By the time we were done for the day, the Frío had delivered up all but one of the 6 species. (Missing species—Rufous-and-Green Kingfisher.) Kingfishers in general are wonderfully cooperative birds. They often sit on exposed branches overhanging the water; they sit still for long periods of time, searching for meals; when they fly out to grab a meal, they often return to the same spot. Z got photos of three delightful species. First—the Green Kingfisher (left). At about 7” long, it is the most common kingfisher species in Costa Rica. This male shows off the distinctive white collar and solid rufous breast band. Second—a female Amazon Kingfisher (below, right). Indeed an “amazon”-sized kingfisher, these birds are nearly 12” long—half again bigger than their look-alike congener Green Kingfisher—with a very heavy bill. In addition to her large size, the female can be differentiated from a female Green Kingfisher by the single green breast band and the lack of any white on the wings. (A female Green would have 2 green breast bands and very obvious white spots on the wings.) Third—and definitely the most adorable—the diminutive American Pygmy Kingfisher (left). The smallest kingfisher—a mere 5” tip to tail—this fellow was about the size of a big hummingbird (e.g,. the Magnificent Hummingbird). The photos below may give you a sense of how minuscule this bird was among the leaves. Kind of a “where’s Waldo” without the red-and-white hat. Look for the bright rufous chest moving from left to right in the photos below. (Click on the photos for a version that gives you a chance of seeing this munchkin.)
As we slipped along the river banks, iguanas dripped from tree limbs as if they were in Dali paintings. The easiest wildlife to see and photograph were the spectacled caimans, sunning on the sandy shores. Caimans belong to the same family as the American alligator (which is found only in the southeastern U.S.) and are only distantly related to the crocodile. In these photos, you can see the U-shaped snout and the bony ridge around the eyes, which gives rise to its name “spectacled.” (Crocodiles have pointed, V-shaped snouts and no bony ridge.) Both the upper and lower jaws of a crocodile are the same size, so the 4th tooth on the lower jaw generally shows menacingly when its jaws are closed. In contrast, the upper jaws of caimans and alligators are oversized, so the lower teeth rarely show when their mouths are closed.
Below is a photo that captures the environment of the Río Frío during the dry season. If you look closely (after you’ve clicked on the photo to see a larger version), you can see one of the ubiquitous Roadside Hawks at the top of the center tree.
One near disaster (well, okay—that’s a bit dramatic…) occurred for me at the afternoon boat trip. Remember that the lodge had air conditioning in the rooms, so we kept our optics in the bathroom with the door closed. (and remember the crescendo of ominous foreshadowing music I mentioned earlier…) I had been wandering the grounds after lunch; before heading out for the afternoon outing, I stopped back at the room to refresh my sunblock and get more water. Picking up my hat and the field guide, I merrily headed out for the bus. Off the bus and onto the boat. As I sat down on the boat, I realized I didn’t have my binos. OMG! Had I taken them off on the bus? Seemed very unlikely—they’re always around my neck. No time to go back to the bus and certainly no time to go back the lodge. I was dumbfounded, appalled, distraught. Roger—ever the gentleman—offered me his. (Really. He did. Do you believe that?) I abjectly refused—no sense making the others on the trip suffer because of my stupidity. Z handed me his binos—what a pal that man is!—and made photography his mission that afternoon. Ironically, I believe Z actually spotted many more birds than I did, even without binos. He has an amazing ability to see movement and find it in optics—be they binos or a camera. That man must have been a hawk in an earlier life… Back at the room, I anxiously checked the bathroom—there were the binos, sitting patiently on the shelf. Completely unfogged up. Lesson learned. Of course, none of our rooms from here on had air conditioning, so I wouldn’t be tucking the binoculars away out of sight. But still—after that, I would announce that I had them with me each time as we’d exit the room.
Roger joined us for dinner. The conversation ranged widely, from mortgages in Costa Rica to college expenses for his oldest daughter to Costa Rican cuisine. At one point, Ramón (one of the wait staff at the lodge) came up to Roger and related a brief story in Spanish. After Rámon left, Roger told us with a smile that a number of people had been requesting hot sauce—which the dining room didn’t have. Z’s penchant and personal supply of hot sauces were making their mark. Ever the trend-setter!
The next morning, before breakfast, we birded the grounds of the lodge and the road in front of lodge. The most notable bird for me was a distant Collared Araçari (pronounced “ara-sorry)—a lovely toucan—beautifully highlighted in the sun through the scope. It is suspected that the 2 species of araçaris in CR—the Fiery-billed and the Collared Araçari—have a common ancestor. However, geographic isolation caused by the country’s mountain ranges has separated the birds and natural selection has resulted in the development of 2 separate species.
After breakfast, we climbed aboard the bus once again to head to the rainforest—Selva Verde Lodge and La Selva. Click here to join us!