Tuesday 27 March 2018

Costa Rica - Day 2, afternoon

Only a short drive from La Paz Waterfall Gardens we left the main road and descended into the valley below - an area known as Virgen del Socorro. This will forever be a place etched in my memory for one very simple reason. I saw my first Toucan. I actually spotted it myself, no laser pen necessary, as it flew across the road near the new bridge and settled in a tree. It was not the classic Keel-billed Toucan I had been expecting, but the larger Chestnut-mandibled Toucan. I remember feeling the same way when I saw my first Hornbill in Singapore - birds that just have that certain something that connects them to where they live. Toucans scream tropical, and whilst I have visited the tropics a number of times this was my first encounter. It was so good that even though the photo is distant and suffering from excitement, I am posting it anyway. Record shots can also have deep meaning.

Chestnut-mandibled Toucan

Once we crossed the bridge Leo had a plan. He knew where a certain Heliconia grew, and that if in flower (which let's face it is almost continuously in the tropics where it is simultaneously all seasons other than winter) it might be visited by quite a rare Hummingbird, the White-tipped Sicklebill. We staked it out, Leo pointing out which flowers were at the perfect state of development to be attractive to the bird, and remarkably one came by. Even more remarkably I managed to get a photo of it in the semi-darkness of the rainforest. Like the Toucan it isn't the best, but all I can say is just wait until you see my Antpitta.

White-tipped Sicklebill

Flush with hummer success we carried on up the winding road that climbed up the opposite side of the valley, and a few judicious stops - even in the middle of the afternoon - added gazillions of great birds. It was neck-aching stuff, with some birds like Black-headed Tody Flycatcher hundreds of feet up followed by Bay Wren hopping around at our feet. It was the Tanagers that stole the show though. Leo pointed out Bay-headed Tanager, a vision of electric green and blue, but as I was taking this in I saw something even more remarkable which just got better and better as I described it. I had no idea what it was of course, but my description was so good that Leo called it as an Emerald Tanager before he even saw it. I think there were three in the end. 

Bay-headed Tanager -  heavy crop does not do it justice!

It is so difficult, only a few short weeks later, to remember what birds we saw where - even with the aid of my notebook which I assiduously wrote up each evening.The days were endless blurs of birds, thick and fast, from first light to last knockings. From memory along this short section of road we also saw Plain Xenops, Crested Guan, Lesser Greenlet, Barred Becard, Russet Antshrike, Slate-throated Redstart, Black-and-Yellow Tanager... the list goes on and on. Towards the end of this multi-stage trip report I will try and set out the day-by-day list, as well as the total. All I can say for now is that don't be concerned that you might not see many birds if you go to Costa Rica.

Roadside Hawk

Our final stop of the day was at the small lagoon just outside of San Miguel. We spent an hour or so here looking for a White-throated Flycatcher, but being puzzled by what appeared to be an out-of-range Bran-coloured Flycatcher. Whilst trying to photograph what might be a new bird for the Caribbean side we also notched up both Grey-headed and Olive-headed Yellowthroats, Greyish Saltator, Variable and White-collared Seedeater, Rufous-throated Sparrow. With darkness falling we drove the remaining short distance to La Quinta di Sarapiqui. Here we finally met up with the inestimable Kevin, and made plans for the following day that would be spent at La Selva Biological Station, a bastion of tropical research over the years. The trip list at this point stood at 109, not bad for a day of driving with four stops!

Grey-headed Yellowthroat

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