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Costa Rica 15th March 2011 to 29th March 2011 part 1

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Old Saturday 9th April 2011, 13:07   #1
Robert L Jarvis
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Costa Rica 15th March 2011 to 29th March 2011 part 1

Our trip to Costa Rica was the first visit which was eagerly anticipated. The Country and the people did not not dissappoint apart from one instance later regarding Vamos4x4.

This is not a trip report giving a full blown account of sites visited and birds seen at each as this has been dealt with very much so in other reports but rather our experiences from our first vist here.

The Country was fascinating, the different habitats, scenery and the people were fantastic. We found the people to very friendly, courteous and extremely helpful. The fact that we had only a smattering of Spanish did not prove to be a problem.
The purpose of our trip was of course primarliy to bird followed by seing the country, the people and other wildlife. We took a First Choice package holiday on an all inclusive basis staying at the Occidental Allegro Papagayo which is located on the pacific side of Guanacaste about 30 minutes from Liberia airport. The flight there from Gatwick took 12 hours non-stop. The plane was fine, great leg room and a tv screen in the back of the seat headrest, good cabin crew so no complaints about the flight. The hotel was a 3 star and as Steve G stated in his report is on a steep hillside but a shuttle bus runs round every 10 minutes, so no problem there and at each bus stop water was available from a dispenser as was ice.

Climate was blistering, in our first nine days midday temperature was 36 celsius and the last few days of break exceeded 40 celsius with humidity to match. Of course in higher altitudes it was cooler and a very comfortable level there.

Car HireA terios had been prebooked months before with Vamos4x4 and was to be delivered to our hotel on the 2nd of our holday for which we paid extra. On the day we waited in vain for it to be delivered at 10.00am. After an hour with the help of Norman a hotel employee Vamos was contacted. It was found that they had gone to the wrong hotel, the correct hotel had been emphasised in my email booking! The vehicle eventually turned nearly two hours late.

It was a 7 year old, battered Terios with 127000k on the clock, which we thought well okay it should be alright on the road (big mistake), we should have rejected it but we did need a vehicle. The interior was also in a bad state, the seats were dirty and the fabric badly worn and the cabin also had a number of scars. The Vamos guy pulled out the paperwork and went thoruoh it and then tried to stick us with a $2000 deposit and I had to point out this was not correct, full insurance had been taken out and the deposit was $750, clearly did not know what he was doing. he then anted to examine the vehicle noting down all the damaged areas and when I asked why, his reply was it had to be done. I advised him that as we had full insurance this was not needed but no he could not be convinced. We were shown that that triangle was in the boot but when asked where the tools were. He showed they were under the driver's seat all loose and dirty just great for banging around. We were about to sign and I asked where was the coolbox and cellphone it was supposed to come with. I was faces with a blank look and he consulted with his colleague. This would be delivered for 10.00am on the following day, great.

We tried the car that afternoon birdine the area around the hotel locale. The car was awful, it bounced all over the place making it difficult to keep a straight line, the steering wheel could be pushed in and out about an inch(not good), everything vibrated and one could not use the interior mirror for the vibration, inside it was terribly noisy and a strange whining noise from the rear. We decided when the chap turned next moring we would have words.

Next day we waited in vain until 11.00 am for the coolbox and cellphone to be delivered. We decided to go out to Palo Verde and in passing the Vamos depot just past the airport we would call in. We called in picked up the cellphone and complained about the vehicle. It was agreed they would get a better vehicle and swop it. So 3/4s of an hour later we left to drive on. On our return from Palo Verde we called in at Vamos to see if they could now change the vehicle. Alas not right now but they did have a Rav 4 coming in at lunch time the following day. The next day on our way to Heliconias Lodge we called in too check that he would have the Rav 4 for us to switch to. We were informed by "Alex" an employee that the Rav 4 had been allocated to some one else but he would keep looking for us to get a better vehicle. The journey to Heliconias Lodge in this car was awful and a decision was made that we would pack this car and terminate the rental later that day when we were returning.

We called in at Vamos just before they were to close and were met by the manager Anibal. He sympathised with us and revealed in fact only a couple of months before the Terios should have been sold and agreed the vehicle was bad but they had kept it on. To our horror on examining the vehicle somehow the plastic radiator grill had some how dropped off and so we would be charged for a replacement. Now I ask how could that have dropped off indicative pehaps of poor maintenance. Anyway matters were concluded he would call our hotel later in the week to advise how much would be charged. He oblingly took us back to our hotel. He charged us more than the daily rate shown on our paperwork and for 3 days plus $62 for the grill all told $282. From our experience there is clearly poor management in this firm, they knew the vehicle was rubbish and were quite happy to just take our money, so much for their reputation.

We now had to arrange for another car, so that afternoon I checked with the Avis guy at our hotel and yes he could let us have a car but we would have to wait until lunchtime tomorrow for it to come in.We collected the X-Trail later that afternoon, so more time lost.

As a rsult of the business with Vamos and then having to hire afresh we lost a great deal of birding time as a result we were unable to visit Guanacaste, St. Elena, Rincon de la Vieja, Arenal and Cano Negro. Birding wise this cost us dearly.

Driving


We underestimated the time that traversing the country would take due to the nature of the roads, traffic etc. We were pulled in once at a police checkpoint but all he did was very pleasantly check our passports. However on the road from Carara across the Tarcoles Bridge about 2 kms towards Orotina we observed twice a radar gun in operation during the middle of the day. The tourist in front of us was pulled in, I just kept haed down and carried on driving. Up in the hills watch out for potholes and sleeping policeman usually at a school zone. The system of double or single continuous road markings count for nothing overtaking is done whenever the road is clear. Watch out for the big American trucks on the narrow country roads.

BIRDING

Hotel


There was great birding in and around the hotel with a number of tracks to be explored and the beach which was productive. Typical dry forest birds and was a great introduction to birds in Costa Rica. Every evening in the trees right in front of our room great numbers of Orioles, Grosbeaks, Kingbirds, Flycatchers, Parrots would gather before going to roost. They also included migrants such as Scissor-tailed Flycatcher.

Palo Verde


After the Vamos business we were rather late getting to the park entrance. We had seen several birds on the rough road to it but to our horror as we neared the entrance the wind had got up and was in gale force levels and dust was blowing everywhere. To be told at the entrance that the lagoon was another 12k was too much for my wife. She could not face it and we backtracked. To be honest in that wind and dust I was very reluctant to get my optics and camera out anyway. The road was rough but manageable it was just the wind and dust which would have made the birding nigh impossible.

Heliconias Lodge


We were looking forward to this as our first experience of Costa Rican rainforest birding. The approach road from Bijuagia was quite rough and up hill allthe way with some deep mud in places. At the lodge we were informed there were no guides available as they were all away doing private trips.
As we had got there we decided to give it a try. Not good although we heard a few birds calling actually we were only able to catch sight of would you believe 2. One an inidentified woodcreeper or peck, which looking back I think was Smoky-brown Woodpecker and the other was Black-eared Wood Quail. We had not bargained for there being no guides!

The next day a Sunday was lost due to Vamos and arranging a new rental. The next day a monday we had to be off for Sarapiqui where we were booked in at Posada Andrea Cristina fior 2 night.
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Old Sunday 10th April 2011, 16:04   #2
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So sorry to hear about the bad experiences you had with Vamos. In my experience most of the rental car companies here give away reserved cars on a regular basis but I havent heard of any experiences as bad as that!
There are usually speed traps near Carara- one adjacent to the reserve and one towards Orotina. They love to put these in poorly marked 60k zones. Glad to hear you didnt get a ticket! I think they tend to leave tourists alone as it is easy enough tp find speeding locals.
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Old Sunday 10th April 2011, 23:35   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Birdingcraft View Post
So sorry to hear about the bad experiences you had with Vamos. In my experience most of the rental car companies here give away reserved cars on a regular basis but I havent heard of any experiences as bad as that!
There are usually speed traps near Carara- one adjacent to the reserve and one towards Orotina. They love to put these in poorly marked 60k zones. Glad to hear you didnt get a ticket! I think they tend to leave tourists alone as it is easy enough tp find speeding locals.
Got a ticket in 2005 at that spot.

They asked me to pay them on the spot.... pretty much a bribe. We did. However, I believe you can pay tickets at most banks or even the car rental place when you return.

There's been a speed trap there every year at that spot since at least 2001.
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Old Monday 11th April 2011, 10:59   #4
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Part 2

It was a long drive from our Pacific coast hotel to Puerto Viejo de Sarapiqui. We had hoped to look in at Arenal for a couple of hours on our way seeing as we had now lost the chance of a good long do here. However as soon as we got to the lake the rain started to come down like there was no tomorrow so we decided to push on. We missed a turning and ended up in Quesada, what a town. It took us over 30 minutes to find the right road out of here, a town to avoid , I think.

Posada Andrea Cristina

We arrived mid afternoon and were met by our host Alex from whom we gratefully accepted a cup of coffee. The lodge is very interesting with plenty of resident birds, several tanagers, Cocoa Woodcreeper, Orioles and flycatchers. The cabins have a rustic charm but spacious, nice patio with table and chairs and a parking space. One needs to be careful though with the car around the trees.

While birding around the grounds we noticed great numbers of vultures circling overhead, a srutiny of these produced our only King Vulture of the trip, a great bird to see and watch.

A couple of hours later Alex took us to a local spot to see a bird in which he has taken a special interest in protecting, Great Green Macaw. We had tremendous views of a nesting pair, this was for us one of our must see birds, difficult to express our joy at seeing these. At the site there were other Parrots, Toucans, Orepondola and many other smaller birds.

We returned to our cabin well pleased and went with our American friend Jennifer who we met at the Posada. A very clever woman, works at MIT in Cambridge, Mass. On our hosta reccommendation we dined at a cafe just 5 minutes away which served great food and drink at a very reasonable price.

Selva Verde

We had decide to do the morning walk here for birds, what a waste of money and time. In two hours we trekked through the forest up and down on muddy tracks which were badly maintained. Spent most time looking at our feet as the path was that tricky. The tour started at 8.30am and turned out to be just a general wildlife tour seeing the plants, a little wildlife like a Sloth and a frog. We connected with only one bird,a Violaceous Trogon although our guide did try to locate Sunbittern but without success. A bird we wanted to see but missed. The other bird seen here was a Rufesacent Tiger Heron on the river before the tour commenced. Have to say cannot endorse Selva Verde, perhaps we were unlucky.

After lunch we birded the perimeter of La Selva with some success but birding the access road to the Research Station was much better. A bird we head been dying to connect with just walked out of the trees not 30 yards and proceed to cross the road and go into the trees on that side, a malle Great Currasow, wow, what a bird. We picked up many other birds here likemore Toucans, Aracari.

Overhead we noticed there was an enormous passage of raptors, numbering conservatively upto 3000. A scrutiny of these revealed Turkey and Black Vulture, Swainson's hawk, Broad-winged Hawk and others but with no telescope could not identify anymore.

After here it was a return trip to once again see the Great Green Macaws and spent about 90 minutes here again just enjoying the sight of these birds.

After a goo0d meal at the cafe and a sound sleep, we were up early for a morning guided Birdwalk with Alex's son Kevin. He certainly knows his birds and I was told helps out with the guiding at La Selva. The walk with him produced more than 60 birds in just over 2 hours. After a late breakfast it was time to journey back to our hotel and to ensure we kept away from Quesada. We set off in good time as we did not wish to be driving at Night and in fact got back just before the sun set.

The next day after a good sleep and breakfast we set off for Cerro Lodge and Carara.

Cerro Lodge

An excellent lodge with decent meals served and a very helpful host Federico. We had arrived at about 11.00am and after unpacking and having a little refreshment set off for Tarcoles Bridge.

Tarcoles Bridge

From here we counted 19 Crocodiles which actually surprised and some were big buggars. Plenty of birds here to. Notably Northern Jacana, Southern Lapwing numerous BB Whistling Duck, Egrets and Herons. Then onto Carara in the next part.
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Old Tuesday 12th April 2011, 00:50   #5
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Nice write up you are inspiring me to do one myself. We had better luck with cars using Tricolor and were real lucky at Las Heliconias with Henry showing us a Tody Motmot I assure you we would never have found ourselves as well as the Ornate Hawk-Eagle nest with a nice adult hanging around. On the other hand we drowned at times on the Caribbean Coast and I cursed the country mightily as I tried to navigate around San Jose.
It is an amazing country and I am looking forward to reading more of your report.
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Old Tuesday 12th April 2011, 14:58   #6
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Part 3

Carara

After the excitement at the bridge we moved on to the Carara Reserve Centre. No sooner had we turned in the gate and we were approached by a chap who directed we park in a spot in the shade. This person asked if we were here to bird and after our affirmative introduced himself as Maurice. He stated he was a guide and when he realised we were English claimed he had spent many years in Newcastle in the UK before moving to CR. We agreed we would like a guide and asked how much. Maurice claimed he could show us 40 to 60 and would accept $40 for both of us.It would be about 2 hours. It was felt this was reasonable. When asked which trail, we opted for the river trail. We drove back up the road to the entrance and parked in there where there was a chap for a tip would keep mind the vehicle. So off we went walking the river trail, but that is not quite true, we hardly walked the actual trail as Maurice led us off in all directions through the forest, criss crossing the trail several times. He certainly knew where the birds were, their calls and could ID them. Somewhere along the line the number of birds to see changed to 30 to 40. Nevertheless we did not say anything as it was felt this would be a good do. However our guide as soon as a bird was seen would speak out the number. Maurice was counting down the birds seen which was somewhat disconcerting to be advised, number 10, then 15 and so on. We got to 30 but annoyingly he counted birds we spotted and when told we had already seen such and such a bird this was still counted. At the lagoon Scarlet Macaws flew out and we counted 20 of them. However we were on 30 birds and then our guide turned to us and offer us a deal. If we gave him a lift home he would show us Red-headed and blue-capped Manakin. He revealed his home was in Jaco some 25 kms down the coast which meant we would have to do a round trip od upto 60 kms We declined his deal ( in fact we were a bit non-plussed to realise he was holding back on birds). From this point Maurice chucked his toys out of the pram and sulked. He showed us 2 more birds saying that was 32 and briskly led us back out to the entrance. We gave him and the car minder ($5 tip) a lift to the shop by the bridge and that was that.

He certainly knew the birds but attitude wise could be better. Mixed feeling about recommending him to anyone. The walk by the way was conducted at a brisk pace! barely giving time to get a good look at the birds and for photography. Taking into account birds we spotted ourselves and seen before the actual figure was 26.

Cerro Lodge


At about 9.00pm an Owl could be heard calling so off I went to track it down. Success I spotlighted the resident Black and White Owl which I was banking on in view of what has happened at Orotina.

Mangrove Boat Tour


Up very early and a quick breakfast as Dave was picking us up at 7.00am. It was a good move to be picked up and then returned as no way would I have been able to find where the boat was docked. It actually was right near where Tarcoles Lodge was sighted. This lodge is no more, it was sold to a Canadian who knocked it down and rebuilt a house for himself.

Off we went on our river cruise with the obligatory Mangrove Swallows following as their nest box was in the back of the boat. Picked up on many of the usual birds at the river mouth, terns and Gulls and a wader or two. We cruised the mangrove edges getting really close to many birds but the real surprise for our guide to was Yellow-billed Cotinga, a bird I felt we had zero chance of seeing but here we about 20 feet away from it.

It was at this juncture about 50 minutes into the cruise, the boats engine packed in. There was no option but to anchor up and call for a rescue boat. So here we were stranded in this spot for about 45 minutes just keeping our eyes oped for birds. We switched to the rescue boat and continued with the tour again getting really close to many birds, herons, kingfishers and other smaller birds. Deep in the mangrove channel Dave found Mangrove Warbler. Difficult one this as the bird is resident no migratory like the other Yellow Warblers we seen, so I have counted it. Who knows there may well be a split in the future. I had the feeling that we did not go quite as far as we should have done in the mangroves obviously due to the breakdown and time. A 2 hour cruise turned into a 3 and 1/4 hour cruise. Naturally we did see Boat-billed Heron but the real surprise was a pair of Double-striped Thick-knee on a sandbank.

By the time we got back to the Lodge, it was now lunchtime. We ahd a quick snack and drink. But the breakdown on the river cost us as we would not know have the time to do the Headquarters Trail at Carara as it would takes us 4/5 hours to get back to the hotel and we did not wish to drive in the dark. As it was we actually just back within a half hour of the sun setting. Tomorrow the rental car has to be returned but not until after midday, so time for one last trip out. We decided on Santa Rosa.
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Old Tuesday 12th April 2011, 23:38   #7
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Ok, the actual counting of species is about the weirdest thing I've even heard.

I have seen several guides on my four trips to Carara. Most were at least pretty good and I think all were Costa Rican. I've never witnessed any of them counting species. That would be annoying to the point of smacking the guy with my binoculars.
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Old Thursday 14th April 2011, 04:08   #8
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Yes, that counting birds thing is pretty strange! I have met Maurice and he did seem a bit hyperactive but I had no idea he worked like that- won't be recommending him to any birders. The other guides at the entrance seem to act normal and also know their stuff.

Congrats on the cotinga! There are still a few around Carara (population is probably ten birds or less) but you need a fair amount of luck. I had brief looks at 2 females on the mangrove boat tour a few weeks ago. Was there today but had no sign of the male sometimes seen in the distance from Cerro Lodge.

The thick-knee is sighted on most of the mangrove birding boat tours done by Luis Campos.
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Old Thursday 14th April 2011, 22:01   #9
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As I had caught not a sniff of the Thick-knee up north Patrick, this sighting was a blessing.

The Cotinga was a male managed to some average shots of it, the tree it was feeding on was in quite deep shade.

Final part and bird list tomorrow.
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Old Thursday 14th April 2011, 22:45   #10
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Hi there, Robert!!!

What a surprise to have found this, as I've been away from here for so long I missed you were going to visit Costa Rica!!! Looking forward to seeing that list, I'd love to know how many Hummingbirds you've seen!

Cheers, amigo!!!
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Old Friday 15th April 2011, 10:47   #11
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Hello to you to, Marian. Hope you are keeping well.
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Old Friday 15th April 2011, 11:22   #12
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Part 4

We changed our minds and decided to head for

Monteverde

This meant a run down the route 1 from Liberia and taking the Sardinal turnoff. The road through Sardinal and onto Guacimel is a new, smooth tarmac road, somewhat twisty but easy to drive. However once through Guacimel this ends. It has been stated that the access road to Palo Verde is very rough, well in my opinion the rough, stone laden and dusty road to Monteverde is worse. This goes on for some 30 kms, is narrow, twisty and up and down, add to that the big tour buses also have to use this road. At least the Palo Verde is fairly straiht and level.

After over well over an hours drive, we arrived at the Cloud Forest reserve and fortunately managed to get a parking space right by the Park entrance. A few enquiries soon found a guide, his name was Eric. Fees were agreed at $40 for 2 hours for the two of us. First of all though we needed some refreshment from the cafe and spent some initial time checking the trees around the car park which yielded lovely birds like Dacnis.

Then we were off into the park following Eric. Birds were soon found, give Eric his due. He knew the birds and their calls. The 2 hours produced some great birds, the usual ones to be found here but could we locate any Quetzal, sadly No. This despite all kind of efforts and we had to leave. This was a major blow and to say there was a deep depression is an understatement. Then one of Eric's fellow guides appeared from another trail with the news there was a male Quetzal just 75 yards back up the trail near a bend. With Eric's leading off we went like you know what and on the way had a great close encounter with an Emerald Toucanet, could this be better. Yes, the Quetzal was there but also a female. We spent quite some time there until the male flew off. Our joy was self evident and on leaving the park gave Eric a small bonus for his extra time.

It was off then to the Humming Bird Gallery. There were plenty of Hummers here but I have to say in my view it is poorly laid out. A bench is stuck in the middle of the patio with feeded on both sides and at the ends. Surely it would be better to have the benches back against the was and all the feeders in front. Anyway we spent nearly an hour watching these little jewels flit around. Time was getting and sadly we had to leave to get back to our hotel.

Santa Rosa

We realised that we still had the car until mid afternoon so made off for Santa Rosa. We got there in good time and made straight for the centre and a much needed refreshment. We birded around the buildings and the campground but it was so hot we could not go on. It had to be well in excess of 40 celsius. It was back to the canteen for drinks and a snack. We sat out at the picinic table facing the forest, it was not long for birds to start showing and we picked on quite a few more typical species of the locale.

Then back to the hotel and return the car. It was now chill out time with cold drinks at the pool bar.

The following day was our last and it was decided this would be a non birding day so it was time for a little sun worship, drinks and a swim in the bay followed by an evening drink at the reception bar to watch the sun go down. While we were sat there anew bird turned in the palm Tree right alongside, Orange-chinned Parrot, our last bird.

Summary


Notwithstanding the mishaps we had, our holiday in CR was enjoyed very much. The Country was great and as were the people we encountered. Not sure if I would bird CR this way again, far better I think to just get a flight, hire a car at the airport and have prebooked lodges spread about near the birding sites. I can recommend Posada Andrea Cristina and cerro Lodge.

We managed just over 200 species, with nearly all wannasee birds being seen. In view of the time lost with the car hire busines not a bad efort, certainly I think if that time had not been lost and some over mishaps we could have managed the 250 or more.

In 4 weeks time off to France to stay with friends and a trip to the Camargue.
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Old Friday 15th April 2011, 14:19   #13
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I agree 100% regarding that last bit of road to Monteverde. It is nice that they paved part of the road (and it used to be worse!) but that rough part really keeps me from heading up there on a regular basis.

Congrats in getting the quetzal and have fun in the Camargue!
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