Morning dawned a bit overcast and a tad nippy—43o, according to our travel clock/thermometer when I set it outside. The room had stayed at 60o, so we were fine—although the bathroom was a bit, um, brisk, shall we say? But again, the hot water was plentiful and my morning shower warmed up the room right quick. I gratefully dug my fleece vest out from the very bottom of my suitcase. (Since we were traveling in Feb., I had worn it when we left Colorado.) My fleece vest was absolutely delighted! It never expected to get to see anything in Costa Rica!
Heading out for the morning walk, I grabbed a quick cup of delicious coffee at the dining room and paused for a bit to watch the action at the hummingbird feeders slowly start to pick up. We ambled around the grounds and headed up the hill behind the Quetzal Education Center for a ways. The Rufous-collared Sparrows were singing like crazy—such a lovely song! Click here to hear a clip of this lovely song. Interestingly, about 3 months later, a Rufous-collared Sparrow would be found singing lustily in the mountains of Colorado not far from our home. Much discussion focused on how the heck it got there, but no resolution emerged. Below are 2 photos of the Colorado bird, thanks to Duane Nelson (photographer). After seeing so many of this species in the tropics, it seems a bit incongruous to see one nestled amidst the mountain aspens. (Click on any photo to see a larger version.) If you’re interested, you can read an essay about this Colorado bird by a local man who does a lot of work with recording and analyzing bird songs. He uses sonograms to shed some light on what subpopulation this bird might have come from.
Back at the feeders, Roger confirmed various hummer and tanager IDs at the feeders. Several male Flame-colored Tanager (left) made appearances, although not in their brightest breeding plumage. But still not too shabby. In full breeding regalia, he sports bright orange-red on the head and breast; dark streaking on the back; and dark wings with 2 white wing bars. Its call is similar to its congener, the Western Tanager—sort of a non-musical “preh-DIP.” (Since we have Western Tanagers where we live in Colorado, I reflexively kept looking around for them.) A lovely Silver-throated Tanager visited the banana feeder; his eponymous silvery-white throat made the ID a simple one. (In the photo at the right, he is hanging upside down on an impaled banana—and giving a good show of his lovely silver throat.) And of course, the familiar clown faces of the Acorn Woodpeckers abounded. Can one ever have too many photos of these adorable, brightly colored birds?
By the time breakfast was ready, the sun had burned off the early morning clouds and you could feel the day already beginning to warm up. Ah, the dramatic temperature contrasts that frequent the mountains!
After breakfast, we headed back down along the river on foot to the quetzal boxes, spotting birds along the way. As we walked along the rushing river, I kept my eyes peeled for an American Dipper. (One person in our group had declared the dipper to be her “nemesis” bird—one she has sought but just hadn’t been able to see yet. Dippers nest under a bridge along the river near our house, so I’m very familiar with their calls, songs, and profile. I figured if anyone had a chance of finding one for her, it might be me.) I didn’t find a dipper, but I did spot a delightful “imposter”—a Torrent Tyrannulet. Hanging out on rocks and low branches in rushing mountain river habitat very similar to an American Dipper’s, it is more slender and less uniformly gray than a dipper. And, of course, none of that characteristic bobbing or “dipping.” We hung out for more than an hour at the nestboxes, but the birds were a no show. Still, the river’s constant tumbling and play made it a lovely spot to spend a hour.
Walking back up the road, we spotted a few more species—most notably, a lovely Flame-throated Warbler acrobatically searching out insects on the limbs above us. The Flame-throated Warble is one of the 3 “flaming” birds of Costa Rica’s mountains. The other two? The Flame-colored Tanager and the Fiery-throated Hummingbird. (By tomorrow morning, we would have picked up the entire mountain flame trifecta.) With its bright orange-red throat, it is readily spotted as it hangs upside down and sideways from twigs and branches to explore the leaves, mosses, lichens, bark, and branches for insects, caterpillars, and spiders. (The photos below are a tad blurry, because this fellow was continually on the move. But you get a sense of the pattern.)
We also spotted a Slaty Flowerpiercer, with its tiny “can opener” beak. (Click on the photo on the left to see a larger version of this photo—and the interesting beak.) One of the most fascinating birds in Costa Rica’s highlands, its sharp-pointed beak with a distinctive hook near the tip facilitates puncturing the base of flowers. It hooks its upper mandible (jaw) around the base of the flower and pierces it close to the stem. Its fuzzy tongue can then lap up the nectar without pollinating the flowers, unlike most other nectar-gathering birds, which approach the flowers from the front. (Bananaquits do the same thing with flowers in the lowlands.) Kind of cheating, but what the heck…
Dago and the trusty bus was waiting at the bridge for us, to give us a lift up the hill to the hotel. During lunch, we got a show from a different group of hummingbird feeders along the back side of the dining room. There, we got some good views of a Violet Sabrewing. Rich bluish violet on the head, back and upper chest; a long, strongly decurved bill; and a large tail with conspicuous white spots on the outer edges—unmistakable. The female’s back is green, the chest is gray, the gorget is blue and the tail is similar to that of the male. They can be very aggressive in chasing other hummers from the feeders. (Some birders refer to them as the “violent” sabrewing.) Below are some action shots of a female Violet Sabrewing. You can see the gray chest and the green back—along with that awe-inspiring bill and the easily identified tail pattern.
After lunch, to try for the quetzals again, we took the bus back down along the river to the bridge so that those who weren’t quite so comfortable with the walk wouldn’t need to worry. It started raining pretty hard, so Dago stopped the bus on the bridge across the river and Roger headed down to the nestboxes to see if the quetzals were there. He told Dago that he would give him a call to let him know what was up. Z, never being one to just hang around, headed off with Roger, as did a couple of others. After we sat on the bus for about 15 minutes, the rain began to let up, so I headed out to look around to see if I could spot an American Dipper. But to no avail—no dipper to be seen or heard. I wandered around the soaked grounds for a bit when I spotted Roger walking up the road. He had not been able to get a signal to contact Dago, so he just walked back to the bus. The quetzals were not at the nestbox, but the group decided we’d walk down to the river anyway.
What a fortuitous decision we made! About 200’ down the road from the bus, we stumbled on a fallout of warblers, tanagers, and other small birds engrossed in a feeding frenzy brought on by the rains. Everywhere we looked, another beauty made an appearance right above our heads. Heads snapped as one person, then another, called out a new arrival over and over again. No time for photos—just drink in the moment. My favorite was the stunning Spangle-cheeked Tanager. (The photo on the right is not ours—but it’s such a stunning bird I wanted to include a photo. Click on the photo to enjoy the full splendor in a larger version. Thanks to Wikimedia Commons—photographer, Snowmanradio.) We even spotted an old familiar western U.S. bird—a Townsend’s Warbler. A truly extraordinary and memorable experience!
The group that had been down by the nestboxes met up with us and we all headed back to the bus. Along the way, we were accompanied by the haunting song of a Black-faced Solitaire. Roger tried valiantly to find it, but it was too stubbornly deep in the vegetation. The sound alone was marvelous—click here for a sample. It rather reminded me of the song of the Varied Thrush—not too far a stretch, since solitaires are in the thrush family.
For our last evening before heading back to San José, we gathered in the cozy lounge area for happy hour—2-for-1 beers and free peanuts! I didn’t really want 2 beers, but I bought 2 negros (dark beer) anyway. Just as I turned from the bar, 2 bottles in hand, Roger came in. I offered him my 2nd beer, which he happily accepted. We gathered around a large table and passed around a sheet of paper on which we wrote our e-mail addresses, vowing to stay in touch. From the lounge, we headed to the dining room area to hear the story of San Gerardo de Dota and Savegre Mountain Hotel by the patriarca Don Efraín Chacón. It was an interesting story that he had told many times—and the retelling clearly brought him great joy. Then off to one last marvelous dinner.
Click here to read about the morning’s trip to Cerro de la Muerte.