Wednesday 25 April 2018

Costa Rica - Day 6

Our day in the Highlands had been great, and today we were headed for another area with a new set of birds – the Pacific Lowlands. Before we left Savegre we walked one of the trails behind the hotel – here we had excellent views of Spotted Barbtail. We also saw Dark Pewee on the margins of the the forest. It was perched ridiculously high up and was located by Leo on call. It would be have been nice to continue birding this areas as we had missed the Peg-billed Finch, but time was pressing and we had a long way to go.

First we had to climb out of the valley. This took us past the Quetzal trees we had scored in the previous afternoon, and as we approached the bend we could see a few people pointing excitedly up the slope on the other side of the road from where we had seen the birds yesterday. We pulled up and jumped out – a male Quetzal was in full view excavating a nest hole while the female sat in the trees above him. The entire bird was visible, from the top of the aquamarine head to the bottom of the extended ‘tail’ feathers. Wow all over again. We burned 20 minutes of birding time elsewhere on this phenomenal sight but it was worth it!

Back on the main road we had a couple of targets. The first was a site that Leo knew for Wrenthrush, a real skulker that we tried in two places for and I jammed a view of it at the second. I think Bob went without unfortunately but once again we had to keep moving. Our destination was the town of Tarcoles – all the way down the slope, through San Isidro, over the smaller range and then a long way up the coast (see map here).  Also here were Yellow-thighed Finch, Flame-throated Warbler, and Sooty Thrush.

Yellow-thighed Finch

Sooty Thrush

Our next stop was the communication tower road – a regular destination for Volcano Junco and Volcano Hummingbird – we saw both very easily and were able to get going again – very much tick and run birding today.

Volcano Junco

Volcano Hummingbird

After a quick lunch at a roadside stop overlooking some feeders we visited the Bosque del Tolomuco. As far as I could tell this is somebody’s house with a couple of cottages that they rent, but it also has a great many bird feeders and we added many new species here including White-crested Coquette which we saw no-where else, Magenta-throated Woodstar, White-tailed Emerald, Green-crowned Brilliant, White-throated Mountain Gem and Snowy-bellied Hummingbird. We also saw Lesson’s Motmot, another Red-headed Barbet, and a Black-striped Sparrow along the edges of the garden.

White-tailed Emerald

Green-crowned Brilliant

White-throated Mountain Gem

Lesson's Motmot

Silver-throated Tanager

We continued down the Pacific slope to the city of San Isidro. I had fallen asleep somewhere on the way down and woke up as we pulled up next to a police station in an unprepossessing industrial estate close to the Colegio Tecnico Profesional. I got out of the car and was instantly floored by the heat. Wow! A huge difference from the relative cool of the Highlands! This is what we would be birding in over the next day and a half! The reason we were in a slightly bizarre place for birding is because it is a very reliable location for Turquoise Cotinga. Sure enough a distant bird perched up was one, but flew out of view before Bob or I could get to the scope. This happened several times until we changed position slightly and thankfully got excellent views of several different birds that flew in. Incredible looking things, precisely as their name would suggest!

Turquoise Cotinga

Before we left the city we stopped at a small water treatment plant quite close to the Cotinga site. Here a five minute scan produced Black-bellied Whistling Duck, Blue-winged Teal, Black-necked Stilt and Southern Lapwing. None of these were new for me but it is little stops like this that contribute to a large trip lists and the glowing feeling that this promotes in birders returning home from an expedition.

Back in the comfort of the air-conditioned car we turned onto Route 243 and crossed over the small coastal range before finally seeing the Pacific Ocean. From now on the rest of the day would just be a long drive up the coast to Tarcoles. There were nonetheless birding opportunities similar to the water treatment works. For instance we stopped by some fields for Smooth-billed Ani, scanned for raptors such as Yellow-headed Caracara, and also stopped at a small roadside wetland area for a quick-fire addition to the list in the shape of Ringed Kingfisher, Anhinga, Bare-throated Tiger Heron (which completes my set of this fantastic family), Purple Gallinule, and Green Heron. Amazon Kingfisher was also on the overhead wires here. We had to press on though, this is the unfortunate reality of wanting to maximise the different habitats in a short trip. By far the majority of the habitat along the coast was Palm Oil plantations – bird-free zones barring various Pigeons, and a real shame to see but that is the economic reality of the tropics. Have a look at the satellite view below and it really hits home – miles and miles of it, with presumably a dearth of biodiversity. At one point some Scarlet Macaws flew over the road I think, but we would see this species better the following day.

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We arrived at the Hotel Villa Lapas in the dark to discover a Common Pauraque in the car park and the happy news that we were on an all inclusive rate and as such that there was an open bar. Bob and I thus consumed multiple beverages whilst light-crazed Cicadas zoomed around our heads and smashed into our faces. These were collected by a small child with a huge love of anything that moved – the benefits of having field scientist parents – and dutifully presented to any passing adults. Trip list 311 - all going well.

A real feature of the Pacific lowlands was the incessant grating of Cicadas

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