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Costa Rica birds and more, field trip style! - Dec. 28 to Jan. 12

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Old Tuesday 14th January 2020, 02:14   #1
birdmeister
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Costa Rica birds and more, field trip style! - Dec. 28 to Jan. 12

Hello all,

I've just come back from one of the trips of my lifetime and I'd like to share a bit of how it went.

I travelled to Costa Rica with six other students and a professor from my university as part of a Field Biology course. We covered a marvelous range of habitats during our journey, which I will go into more detail on later. My final bird species tally was 233, somewhat light but good for me considering this was not a dedicated birding trip and it was my first visit to the tropics! Trip birds are marked in bold. Lifers are in red, and the few heard-only birds that I included are in their own category of green.

Consider yourself forewarned that this is not a typical trip report. I will give some logistical details, but precise location directions should not be necessary given the well-known places we explored. In addition, I'm quite sure that very few BF members will be taking a Field Biology trip anytime soon! Nevertheless, I'll start with some general information and notes.

Many people mention their trip cost. My situation was rather unique in that my fee was for the trip altogether, so I simply don't know the exact numbers of many expenses! I will say, though, that Costa Rica was moderately expensive for the most part.

At no point during the trip did I have any real fear of theft or danger. I had already been warned to be careful of pickpockets in San Jose (the capital) and still had no trouble.

Lodging proved to be highly variable but always manageable. Our hotel in San Jose was fine in every way. The CIEE field station just below the Monteverde cloud forest had some decent cabins to stay in. These had only a few critters, some hot water, and clean rooms. Palo Verde National Park was among the more rustic destinations, with simple rooms that had one window and no air conditioning. This was a small inconvenience due to the HOT temperatures, but really it wasn't that bad. Bathrooms and showers were separate and simple, and we were told to watch for scorpions in every room. We were all reveling in the luxury of the famous Arenal Observatory Lodge, with its scorpion-shaped towels, high-quality showers, and impeccable neatness! Not counting the last night in the same San Jose hotel, our final stop was at the OTS station at La Selva. Here, again, was no air conditioning, but the bigger issue was the humidity. As a result, any wet clothing never truly dried and both rooms smelled somewhat of sewage (!). The bathrooms were again simple, with cold showers being the staple. Thankfully, we never had any serious problems with our nightly lodging.

We had guides in almost all locations, but only two or three proved to be very good with bird ID. More on these in the report, though, since some were excellent.

The weather was also worth mentioning. Although I'll go into more detail in each entry, for the most part the weather was unexpectedly dry and pleasant! This carried a slightly unsettled note at Monteverde, where we were told that the number of dry days is increasing dramatically in the cloud forest. Many locations were quite breezy, save for La Selva.

My camera was rather low-key, a Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ35 with no special lenses. As a result, most pictures are not much to write home about but provide a bit of enrichment.

I will mention as many non-birds as possible, including mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and a splash of insects and arthropods. All of these will be in blue.

Of course I will be happy to provide more information if people wish!


Here goes...

Last edited by birdmeister : Tuesday 14th January 2020 at 02:56.
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Old Tuesday 14th January 2020, 02:53   #2
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Day 1, 28 December - Travel

This day's write-up is indeed short, since it was a dedicated travel day. I spotted several flocks of Brant geese in the water as we approached the John F. Kennedy International Airport to begin our journey. Security and other airport business was marvelously smooth, especially compared to my expectations. The group had plenty of time to watch the action and have a bite to eat. Our American Airlines flight went directly to the Costa Rican capital of San Jose, with much of the Eastern US coast lit up in evening sunset. Things turned dark indeed, though, when one of our foreign classmates did not make it through Immigration! Her passport was fine, but an issue with her visa that was shockingly not pointed out to us in New York meant that she would have to take the next plane home! Needless to say, we all spent a quiet night in the Autentico Hotel. I should add a quick note here that our wonderful driver for the trip knew almost no English, but that was not a major problem since a few students knew enough Spanish to get by.

Day 2, 29 December - San Jose and Monteverde

After a somber but much-needed night of rest, I woke up quite early at the hotel. It should come as no surprise that I lifted the window shades a bit and settled in to see what I could see. Hardly a moment later, a sweet whistled song floated my way and in a few minutes I was looking at my first trip bird, a lifer Rufous-collared Sparrow! Further observation revealed a second bird visiting a probable nest site down in the courtyard. My excitement level rose further when flocks of parakeets began to materialize! Several alighted in a nearby tree where I was able to identify them as Crimson-fronted Parakeets. In the same trees, I soon heard and saw a Great Kiskadee, the first of this ubiquitous tropical tyrannid. Several White-winged Doves could be seen perched and in flight, and I got one last gift in the form of a flyover Crested Caracara.

I enjoyed a fine breakfast of eggs, sausage, and fresh fruit and juice, then prepared to set off with the others on a city tour. I had just enough time to sit for a few minutes to watch a tree filled with magnificent orange blooms. This produced a flurry of lifers and a few familiar birds, including Palm Tanager, Blue-gray Tanager, Blue-and-white Swallow, Hoffmann's Woodpecker, Red-billed Pigeon, and Baltimore Oriole.

Our historical tour of San Jose was quite informative and pleasant, but not terribly birdy. Additions here included Black Vulture, Turkey Vulture, feral Rock Pigeon, Great-tailed Grackle, and Tropical Kingbird. Immediately after lunch and farewells to our kind tour guide Carla, we all boarded the van and set off for the Monteverde area. Besides the ridiculously common Tropical Kingbirds and vultures, I added Cattle Egret and Short-tailed Hawk. As we got closer to our destination, our driver pointed out a group of Howler Monkeys in roadside trees. The scenery on the sunny approach to Monteverde was simply stunning! At one point we seemed to drive right into a rainbow connecting two tall mountains. It wasn't until we reached the tourist town of Monteverde that the clouds appeared and large flocks of unidentified swifts zoomed past. We pushed on until we reached the CIEE campus on the lower slopes of Monteverde. Until very recently, the University of Georgia ran a field station here, but apparently the CIEE hadn't changed many things at all. It was still a remote campus that served as an educational base for college students around the US.

We hiked the short way to our rooms and soon returned to the "comedor" for lunch. I was admiring the incredible greenery of the place, especially the arboreal moss and epiphytes, but I quickly realized that there were birds to see here! A female Summer Tanager was right outside the building. It didn't take long at all to become acquainted with the boisterous Brown Jays, which seemed to be everywhere during our stay here. An afternoon filled with lectures and an early evening ensured that no further bird additions were to be had. However, there was always tomorrow!

Last edited by birdmeister : Tuesday 14th January 2020 at 03:06.
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Old Tuesday 14th January 2020, 20:07   #3
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Building up quite nicely birdmeister, looking forward to the rest of the trip...hopefully with some images dotted here and there.
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Old Tuesday 14th January 2020, 21:11   #4
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Day 3, 30 December - Monteverde area

I had forgotten to add that while on the previous evening's night hike, I discovered a sleeping Collared ("Orange-bellied") Trogon at eye level! This female, and sometimes the male, would prove to roost regularly on this branch through most of our stay.

This day dawned nicely and started with a guided bird walk on some of the trails. Things started off with a bang as a Lesson's Motmot showed off for us right next to the buildings! Then a troop of White-faced Capuchin monkeys entertained us from the trees. The rest of the hike proved a bit more challenging, though. Our guide did not know many birds, especially by sound, and he was keen to walk quickly. At one point we hit a small flock of birds deep in the woods, but I had no time to stop and look. All I could do was pick out the lovely song of a Rufous-and-white Wren (later seen) and the fascinating call of the Squirrel Cuckoo (also seen later). As we exited the woods, a Clay-colored Thrush perched on a soccer goal. Two Orange-chinned Parakeets flew over and a White-tipped Dove was seen. A real treat came in the second part of the walk, when a hummingbird stopped long enough to reveal it as a Magenta-throated Woodstar. As we arrived back for breakfast, a House Wren bubbled away.

Immediately after breakfast, a flurry of bird activity was apparent just outside the buildings. We got wonderful views of a Tropical Kingbird, and pictures helped identify a Dusky-capped Flycatcher. Other birds added here included Philadelphia Vireo, Yellow-throated Vireo, Broad-winged Hawk, Lesser Greenlet, Melodious Blackbird, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, and possibly the same motmot.

Then it was back to the trails for another hike, this one even longer. A short way into the woods, another troop of capuchins was enjoyed. One individual could be seen breaking off items and tossing them down towards us! Although the scenery was nice, bird activity ceased for a while until a Chestnut-sided Warbler made its presence known. A pair of Chestnut-capped Warblers foraged along a low slope below. Eventually we arrived at a small cow pasture bordered by forest. This proved to be productive. Among several tanagers and thrushes, I saw a young male Long-tailed Manakin! Field birds included Yellow-faced Grassquit, Yellow-crowned Euphonia, Yellow-throated Euphonia, and neighboring trees held migrant Baltimore Oriole, Tennessee Warbler, Black-and-white Warbler, and Wilson's Warbler. A single Montezuma Oropendola flew over later as well. Right near the end of the walk I added a quiet Yellow-bellied Flycatcher.

Lunch followed shortly after the hike, but I was in for a surprise when I got out. A fruit tree near the reception held a dazzling flock that consisted of six Yellow-throated Euphonias and two stunning female Golden-browed Chlorophonias! A tiny Common Tody-flycatcher and an elaenia sp. were here too, as well as an aggressive White-eared Ground-sparrow that attacked a truck mirror! The latter proved to be the only one of its kind seen on the trip.

The rest of the day produced some great birds in more informal settings, mostly on walks to and from the cabins. These included Steely-vented Hummingbird, Golden-olive Woodpecker, Northern Barred-woodcreeper, Social Flycatcher, and Wood Thrush. During our informative walk and lecture on medicinal plants, I saw two fine birds in Elegant Euphonia and Buff-throated Saltator.

I slept pretty well that night, and for good reason. The next day would be our one and only visit to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve!
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Old Thursday 16th January 2020, 10:44   #5
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Very tempted by Costa Rica, so I’m devouring your report with interest.

Also interested to know the official justification for the field trip - 226 species is excellent for a work-based trip.

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Old Friday 17th January 2020, 16:26   #6
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Hi Mike,

The simple answer I can give is that this was the main component of my 3-credit college course. We met at school from September through December, and each student researched and presented on different aspects of Costa Rican flora, fauna, culture, and history. It was supposed to be (and in many ways was) an all-round trip, but I may or may not have made it mostly about the birds!

I must say, though, that the chocolate and coffee tours were fantastic, both very local operations.
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Old Friday 17th January 2020, 17:07   #7
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Day 4, 31 December - Monteverde Cloud Forest and vicinity

This day turned out fantastic for several reasons. Before the good, though, comes the mildly disappointing. Our guide in the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, Manolo, was a fine nature guide and was very kind to us all. However, he didn't know many birds, especially by ear. As a result, many long stretches felt quieter than I think they really were. The second disappointment was not seeing a single Emerald Toucanet! I thought they were supposed to be quite common up here and really wanted to see one. However, we still had a fabulous time here and saw species that are not guaranteed on a visit of just a few hours.

Before leaving for the cloud forest, breakfast at CIEE turned up two great birds. A group of three Gray-headed Chachalacas foraged low in trees, and after breakfast a show-stopping male Long-Tailed Manakin popped up right outside the porch!

Our cloud forest hike started nicely with a group of four sleepy Crested Guans in the canopy. The first mixed flock we hit was while the group was at a brisk walk, but I found time to observe two Spangle-cheeked Tanagers and singles of Wedge-billed Woodcreeper and Ruddy Treerunner. A bit further along, I saw a Slaty-backed Nightingale-Thrush and my first of multiple Common Chlorospingus. The standout highlight came when we rounded a curve and came upon a throng of guides, visitors, and scopes! They were looking at a male Resplendent Quetzal, just as stunning as in pictures. I especially loved the way its upper tail coverts flapped in the breeze. Things went quiet for a while until we reached Costa Rica's continental divide, which was spectacular for scenery and well worth the visit! Several Black Vultures tolerated the whipping winds here. Early on the trek back, one of the students saw a Jaguarundi cross the trail! I missed it, so went on a little side trail towards the place I thought it went to. The shout came up again that it was back on the trail! I scampered and scurried, but couldn't get there in time. We did not see one again, so I have a fine reason to come back. Bird activity increased on the way back, with several flocks yielding numbers but limited diversity. However, we were in Costa Rica, so the "limited diversity" was still excellent. Flocks included Costa Rican Warbler, Slate-throated and Collared Redstarts, and a few other species already seen. Two Gray-breasted Wood-Wrens were heard, but never made themselves visible. As we neared the end, a pair of hummingbirds were identified. There were one each of Green-crowned Brilliant and Stripe-tailed Hummingbird.

However, the fun wasn't done! We made a visit to the Hummingbird Gallery, which was enthralling beyond belief. Hummers zigged, zagged, and fed just inches away, and I had a field day with all of them. The 35 or so hummers were of 7 species, including Green-crowned Brilliant, Stripe-tailed Hummingbird, Magenta-throated Woodstar, Lesser Violetear, Purple-throated Mountain-gem, Violet Sabrewing, and Coppery-headed Emerald (endemic). The feeders were also shared with spunky Bananaquits. I will simply link my eBird checklist here, since there were so many fantastic looks at hummingbirds.

https://ebird.org/checklist/S62823890

My final gift from the reserve was a Green Hermit that briefly paused near the entrance.


We made it back to CIEE in time for lunch, after which I explored the adjacent fruit trees again. Many of the same species as yesterday were still there, with the addition of Boat-billed Flycatcher, Yellow-bellied Elaenia, and Mistletoe Tyrannulet.

I forgot to mention the mammal highlight from the previous night's hike. I flashed my light to the canopy and found a pair of eyes bouncing around. A quick scramble by the group and we all had decent looks at a Kinkajou as it worked its way through the treetops! We later learned that Olingo was a slim possibility, but the folks there had only ever seen Kinkajou at CIEE.


PHOTOS: Continental Divide, Great-tailed Grackle, Common Today-Flycatcher, Yellow-crowned Euphonia, and Collared ("Orange-bellied") Trogon.
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Old Friday 17th January 2020, 17:15   #8
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Certainly enough there to keep me occupied birdmeister, don’t know if the missus would buy into it though?
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Old Friday 17th January 2020, 17:49   #9
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Nice read, takes me back to the summer of 2013, quite a contrast from heavy rain, strong winds and 5° temperatures I'm currently "enjoying" here in the south-west. More please!
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Old Saturday 18th January 2020, 04:21   #10
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Thanks for everyone's comments so far. Still a ways to go!


Day 5, 1 January - Monteverde area

This day started off on an interesting note with two non-bird happenings: a tour of the CIEE biodigester and milking a cow. Upon completing breakfast, we had a bit of free time. A pair of delightful Elegant Euphonias was outside.

I was always a big fan of walking slowly and stopping to look and listen while hiking. I decided to go on a very short hike myself, using this technique. I ran into a small flock of the most common Neotropical migrants, but this one including a silent Ovenbird. A Rufous-and-white Wren was also seen. The birds really weren't notable, but the mammals were! Here I got one of my best views of an Agouti as it bounded across the trail and stopped in the vegetation afterwards. The highlight, however, came when I heard a faint rustling nearby. I soon located a pair of short ears on the forest floor. This morphed into the back of a rabbit! Ecstatic, I took a quick picture. I still couldn't see the critter's face, though. I crouched down to get a look and it was off like a flash! Based on habitat and my photo, though, I came to the conclusive ID of a Forest Rabbit. Apparently it's pretty rare to come across one in these parts, so I was simply thrilled!

Since one of our foreign classmates was able to fly back and rejoin the group on the previous night, we wanted to take her on the same hike that she had missed the day before. It was a bit of a distance, with quite a bit of up and down. However, it turned out to be worth it for the birds! At about the halfway point, I heard a multitude of squeaks and chips coming from around a corner. Sure enough, I'd hit a mixed flock! Several nice additions occurred here, including Slate-throated Redstart, Black-and-white Warbler, Rufous Mourner (probable), and Red-crowned Ant-Tanager. We also saw another Lesson's Motmot, a species which was present on almost every walk at CIEE.

Just before lunch, a call came out that there was an Ornate Hawk-Eagle! Although it's possible that someone saw one, the bird I saw was unequivocally a White Hawk. This was one of my biggest targets and the only one we ended up seeing! Another fine lunch passed by, with (you guessed it) yet another moderate hike afterwards. By this time everyone was feeling quite tired, but several of us put on a brave face and set off anyway. As usual, it was worth it! A little garden at our destination (Zelmi's Pizza) held fruit feeders, hummingbird bushes, and plenty of birds. Baltimore Orioles and Blue-gray Tanagers were abundant here, but a new hummingbird was also added in the form of a Canivet's Emerald. A rolling rain shower soon arrived, where we saw a Golden-olive Woodpecker and four Groove-billed Anis. The best was yet to come, though. Close to the cabins was a forest edge/clearing with good views of all levels. At this particular moment, it was just crawling with birds! A striking Squirrel Cuckoo leaped about in the canopy. Across the road were a Long-tailed Manakin pair, a Mistletoe Tyrannulet, and a Streak-headed Woodcreeper. I discovered the real magnet to Neotropical migrants, though: a natural puddle birdbath! Here I got my overdue lifer Golden-winged Warbler, one of three on the trip. Also here was a male Blue-winged Warbler. Apparently this is moderately rare in Costa Rica, since there are only two other eBird entries in the country this month! The usual Philadelphia Vireos, Tennessee, Wilson's, Chestnut-sided, and Rufous-capped Warblers were buzzing with activity. Just as I approached my cabin for some needed rest, a Mountain Elaenia gave me a quizzical look from a low branch.

That afternoon we headed off to a local woman's house to bake some arepas, or sweet tortillas. They were delicious! We also got to see two distant Keel-billed Toucans and a couple of adorable Vaux's Swifts.


A fine day indeed!



Day 6, 2 January - Monteverde area

This day's write-up is not very long, since we didn't do much birding. I seem to have forgotten to add a Black-throated Green Warbler from two days prior. Semantics aside, this was an intense but fascinating day. The major part consisted of a local coffee tour. However, the landowner had more than just coffee (which we picked a bit of): bananas, citrus, and sugarcane were also present! It really was a well-run operation, and we got to tour the coffee grinder building as well. In the afternoon, we listened to a history lecture and then went out to CIEE's extensive and efficient garden. Here I added a Ruby-throated Hummingbird and admired a butterfly that had incredible camouflage. The night was devoted to a dancing lesson which I largely failed at.


Next up, the hot and sunny lands of Palo Verde National Park!



PHOTOS (previous days):Blue-gray Tanager, Golden-browed Chlorophonia female, Elegant Euphonia male, Common Chlorospingus, and White-nosed Coati.
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Old Saturday 18th January 2020, 18:10   #11
Jon Turner
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Brings back very vivid memories of my trip a few years back - the Quetzal made it worth it on it's own! We recorded 480+ species in 10 days.
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Old Sunday 19th January 2020, 22:38   #12
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What a great experience!
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Old Tuesday 21st January 2020, 01:37   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jon Turner View Post
Brings back very vivid memories of my trip a few years back - the Quetzal made it worth it on it's own! We recorded 480+ species in 10 days.
Whoa! Anything over 400 would be a dream for me. It was really impressive, though, just to be there and experience the cloud and rain forests.
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Old Tuesday 21st January 2020, 02:20   #14
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Day 7, 3 January - Introduction to Palo Verde National Park

We began our trek to Palo Verde NP not long after breakfast. Thankfully, I was given a window seat which I thoroughly enjoyed. The scenery was quite decent, and I added five species to the trip list. These were Wood Stork, Osprey, Great Egret, Gray-breasted Martin, and Gray Hawk. I never did see another Gray Hawk on this trip.

Right as we arrived at the national park gates, we knew we were in for something different. This was HOT! The daytime high temperatures while we were there were about 93F (34C), plenty warm for all of us! Before we even reached our destination (the OTS research station), I added White-tailed Hawk, Inca Dove, Double-striped Thick-Knee, and Scissor-Tailed Flycatcher. We exited the bus and I promptly found five soaring Jabiru. Fantastic! As we sat down to eat lunch, another student pointed out a Great Curassow visible in the dry forest. These would prove to be quite common both here and at La Selva. Spiny-tailed Iguanas were abundant here, but never boring.

Directly after lunch and a lecture, we walked the short distance to the OTS boardwalk that looks out to the extensive marsh. It was jam-packed with waterbirds of all kinds! 100+ Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks made all sorts of noise. Blue-winged Teal were a staple here, as well as smaller numbers of Muscovy Ducks. Numerous other waterbirds included Purple Gallinule, Black-necked Stilt, Northern Jacana, Anhinga, Snowy Egret, Tricolored Heron, Green Heron, Cattle Egret, Belted Kingfisher, and the ever-fascinating Zone-tailed Hawk.

Naturally, a bit of a "siesta" followed for all of us. However, we weren't quite done. Our fine guide and OTS staff member, Jose Castillo, took us on a hike to a rocky promontory to watch the sun set over the marsh. The walk started off nicely, with good scope views of Crested Caracara and Orange-fronted Parakeets. A Yellow Warbler called from the trees, and one of our few heard only species came in the form of at least two Scrub Euphonias. A Streak-backed Oriole was heard, and the next day an oriole was seen that was almost certainly this species. The going got tougher as we trekked on, with the mosquitos becoming especially vicious. It was all worth it, though, when we reached the top. The views were absolutely breathtaking! Mountains could be seen to the east, while the marsh stretched way out towards the Rio Tempisque to the west. A huge flock of 3000+ Barn Swallows provided entertainment. A Short-tailed Hawk soared overhead, as well as nine extremely high Buteos that may have been Swainson's Hawks. Two Roseate Spoonbills flew by, always majestic. Several species were heard from this lookout, including Great Crested Flycatcher, Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl, Scarlet Macaw, and Yellow-naped Parrot. All were seen at some point during the trip, I believe. Darkness began to fall as we headed back for dinner. The silence was broken by a Spectacled Owl and two Turquoise-browed Motmots! I would have loved to see one, but I was thankful that Jose detected them at all. Several cute Common Pauraque foraged along the trail as we called it a night.

Mammals included both monkey species and a White-tailed Deer.

PHOTOS: Yellow-faced Grassquit (Monteverde CIEE), Baltimore Oriole (Monteverde CIEE), Palo Verde sunset x3
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Old Tuesday 21st January 2020, 03:04   #15
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Day 8, 4 January - Pale Verde National Park

This day was full of intense but fun travels, beginning before breakfast with a posing White-fronted Parrot. An after-breakfast jaunt to the boardwalk was not disappointing at all. In fact, we recorded 36 species in a little over an hour here! I had forgotten to add that yesterday's marsh visit yielded several American Crocodiles, none over 2 meters but all of them respectable. Besides yesterday's birds, avian highlights included Common Gallinule, Great Blue Heron, Little Blue Heron, White Ibis, Glossy Ibis, and Snail Kite. Lighting was often harsh here, so I never got fantastic photos of the marsh birds.

The next section of our day became one of everybody's favorite parts of the entire trip. This was a river cruise on the Rio Tempisque! A sense of adventure and excitement prevailed as we boarded the sleek and small boat with Jose and our driver, Iveth. Things were engaging right from the start, with Spotted Sandpipers bouncing along over the water. Numerous Green Iguanas took up imperious perches in riverside trees. One of these trees held a line of roosting Long-nosed Bats! A shout from Jose gave me just enough time to whip my head around and see two Scarlet Macaws cross the river. Minutes later, a Laughing Falcon did the same. Groups of howler and capuchin monkeys, including a couple of babies, provided extra entertainment. No sooner did we enter mangrove country when both Black-crowned and Yellow-crowned Night-Herons began to pop out. Jose's sharp eyes picked up a beautiful adult Bare-throated Tiger-Heron stalking along the shore, followed later by several bizarre Boat-billed Herons! A trio of delightful Mangrove Swallows spent some time right up next to the boat. Several crocodiles could be seen lurking in the brown waters, including one that Jose said might be nearly 2 meters wide! Upon turning around, more great birds continued to be seen. Two King Vultures, one of my top targets, soared with the numerous Black Vultures and Wood Storks. A tiny dot morphed into a Magnificent Frigatebird, riding the strongest thermals to great heights. A distant flock of Brown Pelicans was probably quite close to the Gulf of Nicoya. By the time we disembarked after ~15km, we'd seen 32 species of birds and had such a peaceful cruise on this river.

The rest of the day was spent without much fanfare, as we prepared for our journey to the Arenal Volcano the next day.

Additional highlights here included seeing a live scorpion and a harmless whip scorpion. On our final night hike here, we saw a 4-5 foot (~1.2-1.5m) Central American Lyre Snake on the boardwalk, which was fascinating.

PHOTOS: White-fronted Parrot, Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks, American Crocodile, Northern Jacana, and not-so-Purple Gallinule.
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Old Tuesday 21st January 2020, 03:09   #16
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Additional photos: Spiny-tailed Iguana x2, Yellow-naped Parrot playing hide-and-seek, Forest Rabbit record shot.
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Old Tuesday 21st January 2020, 07:16   #17
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Brings back very vivid memories of my trip a few years back - the Quetzal made it worth it on it's own! We recorded 480+ species in 10 days.
Who did you go with Jon, we only got about 350 in month and we thought we did ok!

Self guided in the main but did pick up guides here and there.
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Old Tuesday 21st January 2020, 07:37   #18
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Additional photos: Spiny-tailed Iguana x2, Yellow-naped Parrot playing hide-and-seek, Forest Rabbit record shot.
Great report there, and thoroughly gripped by that rabbit! Excellent sighting.
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Old Friday 24th January 2020, 03:12   #19
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Great report there, and thoroughly gripped by that rabbit! Excellent sighting.
Thanks! It was one of those small but thrilling moments that leaves you in a sense of wonder.
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Old Friday 24th January 2020, 03:36   #20
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Day 9, 5 January - Palo Verde NP and Arenal Observatory Lodge

Upon waking up on this morning, I think all of us agreed that although Palo Verde was quickly becoming a favorite location, the weather and facilities suggested an imminent move!

As a final nature outing, we got up early to watch the sun rise at the boardwalk. Besides it being gorgeous, I got a few new trip birds here. An unknown owl (possibly Barn) left with prey before sunrise. I added Limpkin, Red-winged Blackbird, American Coot, and our only two Southern Lapwings of the trip. For the most part, I was simply content to observe the continuing numbers (1600+ this morning) and species (34) from this delightful spot. Even the insects were not bad here.

We fueled up for breakfast, then set off. We were supposed to visit Las Baulas National Park by the Pacific Ocean, but we learned that it was closed on Sundays. Our driver found a neat waterfall and swimming hole instead, for those interested. I tagged along, even though I had no intentions of swimming. I will add a note here that we saw multiple Blue Morpho butterflies at various locations, including here. Each time they were just as breathtaking as the last.

We took it slow and steady on our way to the next destination, the famous Arenal Observatory Lodge. Arrival time ended up being around 3 PM. We stepped out of the bus, and a student found a Yellow-throated Toucan just above us. A good start, for sure! I soon discovered, though, that this was only the tip of the iceberg. Immediately after unpacking, I set off for the feeders in front of the (expensive!) restaurant. These feeders were a favorite of mine, simply teeming with all kinds of weird and wonderful feathered visitors. I then took a walk with the others on some trails, including the spectacular 90m (I think?) canopy tower. Lifers came thick and fast on this walk, including Gray-chested Dove, Scaly-breasted Hummingbird, Rufous Motmot, Collared Aracari, Black-striped Sparrow, Violet-headed Hummingbird, Scarlet-rumped Tanager, Bay-headed Tanager, Golden-hooded Tanager, Emerald Tanager, Silver-throated Tanager, and Green Honeycreeper. Many of the tanagers were right at the feeders and just took my breath away. Below the feeders, groups of coatis roamed about.

By the late evening, it was dark enough to go scouting for frogs. We had great success at the Frog Pond with multiple Red-eyed Tree Frogs and some egg masses.

When nighttime finally rolled in, I took full advantage of the gleaming facilities and enjoyed a first-rate sleep.

I should note that for any birders visiting, this lodge is worth an extended stay. The eBird hotspot for the lodge grounds alone has over 500 species, and on every walk I took during our 1.5 days there, I found new and exciting birds.


PHOTOS: Great Curassow, Golden-hooded Tanagers (with Yellow-throated Euphonia), Collared Aracari, Bay-headed Tanager record shot, and Scarlet-rumped Tanager.
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Old Monday 27th January 2020, 19:48   #21
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Who did you go with Jon, we only got about 350 in month and we thought we did ok!

Self guided in the main but did pick up guides here and there.
Sorry for the delay: been to Spain for the weekend! (500 Cranes).

We went with Limosa, and Jason was our guide. It was actually 12 days - well 11.5 really as the La Paz waterfall trip on the last morning was added when everyone realised our flight home was late afternoon.
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Old Wednesday 29th January 2020, 01:15   #22
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Day 10, 6 January - Arenal National Park area

As anyone might imagine, we all enjoyed a terrific night's sleep at the luxurious Arenal Observatory Lodge. On this morning, some students elected to sleep in a bit (I don't blame them!). However, I couldn't keep myself inside when I remembered I was in the tropics.

Since I wasn't supposed to go on the trails alone, I relaxed a bit at the deck feeders watching the usual suspects before enjoying a sumptuous breakfast. We all got a tremendous treat when the clouds lifted from the volcano and its full grandeur showed for a while. It was even better when viewed from "The Nest", the observatory's 90m canopy tower! I enjoyed several new species on the walk to and from the tower, including White-collared Swift, Cinnamon Becard, Olive-backed Euphonia, Variable Seedeater, and a brief but exciting look at my only White-ruffed Manakin of the trip. We also had great views of a mixed flock of tanagers and two Yellow-throated Toucans in the fruit trees.

It was soon time to get in the bus for a day trip to the Arenal Misticopark hanging bridges. This is a spectacular location, with swaying bridges as high as 45m and as long as 90m! Of course, our guide was not a fantastic birder by ear, but she was quite talented at guiding and knew a good number of birds. Within minutes of starting our tour, I saw my lifer Black-headed Saltator, White-throated Thrush, and a pair of lively Buff-rumped Warblers. Farther along, the first of several Rufous Motmots reinforced my glowing impressions of the motmot family. Our guide pointed out a Giant Banded Anole, which sat surprisingly still on a large tree trunk. A new mammal was added when Marjana (our guide) found some Greater White-lined Bats roosting on another tree. I got yet another motmot, this one a Broad-billed Motmot. A persistent call led me to a small subject, but one that I couldn't pin down. By "eavesdropping" a bit on the next group's tour leader, I discovered it was a Scale-crested Pygmy-Tyrant! I did eventually get a better look, even glimpsing its little crest. We all got views of a sloth, but one that chose not to show its head. We were to have great sloth experiences later on at La Selva. Our expert "tarantulista" classmate found several fine specimens, including a white tarantula that I didn't see. Later, we saw a Tarantula Hawk Wasp Pepsis sp. dragging a tarantula along the railing! The guide said she had never seen one in action before.

Upon beginning the trek back, a pair of very quiet birds revealed themselves as the rather scarce Streak-crowned Antvireo. We headed down a hill and saw a gorgeous Blue Morpho sitting with its upper wings exposed. Immediately afterwards, the forest exploded with bird calls and all kinds of species flooded through the forest. I had hit a classic tropical mixed flock! Of course I was totally overwhelmed. I made the executive decision NOT to stress over assorted woodcreepers, which paid off in the end. One of the highlights was a Rufous-winged Tanager that I found, apparently uncommon and desired by tour groups. Other fine species included Carmiol's Tanager, White-shouldered Tanager, Tawny-capped Euphonia, Russet Antshrike, Bay Wren, Long-billed Hermit, White-throated Shrike-Tanager, and a few other common inhabitants. A major non-bird highlight occurred when the guide showed us not one, but two Eyelash Vipers below eye level. These were another hoped-for reptile, and they sure didn't disappoint!

One last surprise awaited us before a quiet end to the hike. As we went along at a steady pace, the guide stopped me and asked, "Sir, you're the one who likes birds, right? I'd like to show you something." A quick scope setup revealed a striking and beautiful pair of Crested Owls at a known roost! This came as a wonderful surprise to me. While I was enthralled with the owls, other classmates photographed a Rufous-tailed Jacamar (seen at La Selva) and a mystery passerine that will probably feature soon in the ID forum.

We had one final night at the Arenal Observatory Lodge before our final location, the Organization for Tropical Studies at La Selva.


PHOTOS: Yellow-throated Toucan, Rufous Motmot, yos tree (spectacular from a distance!), Blue Morpho butterfly, and Eyelash Viper.
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Old Wednesday 29th January 2020, 01:32   #23
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More photos: Rufous Motmot, Broad-billed Motmot, second Eyelash Viper, another Golden-hooded Tanager (couldn't help it!), and distant Green Honeycreeper.
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Old Wednesday 29th January 2020, 15:48   #24
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Day 11, 7 January - Arenal Observatory Lodge and OTS La Selva station


On the final morning at Arenal, I will admit I was disappointed to leave so soon. I knew there were so many other species to discover at this incredible location.

I began at the feeders again, where a beautiful Crowned Woodnymph was at the flowers. Then I took a solo walk on a few short trails (maybe I bent the rules a bit here). The first new birds were a pair of Orange-billed Sparrows scratching in the leaf litter. One thing I noticed here was that open areas with plantings often had a lot of action. Here a Black-cheeked Woodpecker roamed the treetops and a Black-cowled Oriole sat in a low bush. Things got even better in the forest. Two monkeys were quietly feeding in the canopy, but they turned out to be our only Spider Monkeys of the trip! One even had a youngster with it. All of a sudden, the hummingbirds let out a screech and a Tiny Hawk whizzed right over! This was one of the bird highlights of the trip for me, after reading that they're often difficult to find. The final avian lifer here was a White-necked Jacobin, surprisingly the only I ever saw.

By this time, a steady rain was building and we were getting ready to leave. A few of us rushed back so that others could see the Spider Monkeys, which were still there. As we loaded the van, people began gathering near the kitchen area and our driver waved us over with excitement. An Ocelot was eating and drinking behind a trellis hardly 5 meters away! We later learned that this individual was probably fed regularly, since that struck us as extremely odd Ocelot behavior. This only slightly diminished our excitement at seeing two cat species on the trip.

Our drive to La Selva was uneventful, mostly passing through crops of coconut, pineapple, papaya, taro, and others. I saw a Laughing Falcon perched on a tall pole. Ruddy Ground Doves were a common fixture, and two fluttering forms at a gas station could only have been House Sparrows.

La Selva was exceedingly humid and warm, though not unbearable. A large pedestrian suspension bridge spans a river that separates the reception area from the research cabins. This added to the overall feeling that we were in unfamiliar and exotic lands.

We unpacked and headed over the bridge for a stroll. We had great views of a Howler Monkey that came down to the ground before switching trees. Flowering fig trees (Ficus sp.) attracted multiple tanagers and warblers. Among these I found two true beauties, Purple-crowned Fairy and a male Shining Honeycreeper. Here we also saw the first of many Collared Peccaries, quite tame creatures. Before lunch, I added a Dusky-faced Tanager to the list.

After lunch, we all wanted to see poison dart frogs. First, though, a small basilisk that I think was a Common Basilisk showed up. Thanks to our "critter hunter" classmate, we found multiple Strawberry Poison Dart Frogs, more commonly referred to as "Blue Jeans frogs" down here. Any poison dart frogs were my top non-bird target of the trip, so I was relieved and happy to get them upon arrival here.

No day could really be complete, though, without another hike. So hike we did! I soon learned that the handsome Black-faced Grosbeak was quite common and tame outside our rooms. Farther in the woods, we came upon the old arboretum. This contained multiple tall trees and a cleared forest floor. Here I added Green Ibis, Slaty-tailed Trogon, Masked Tityra, and a high soaring raptor that looked very unfamiliar. The biggest highlight came towards the end of our hike, coming back from the River Station. I was in the back of the group, but one of my classmates in the front commented, "That looks like a chicken." I rushed to the front and let out a gasp. "That's no chicken", I said, "It's a tinamou!" Besides the fact that nobody knew a tinamou from a turkey, everyone was excited. A quick look in the field guide proved it to be a fine Great Tinamou, a species I thought I might hear but certainly not see!

The next day loomed as interesting as this one, with a guided bird walk on tap for the early morning.


PHOTOS: Emerald Tanager, Tennessee Warbler, Montezuma Oropendola, Scarlet-rumped Tanager, and Spider Monkey.
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Old Thursday 30th January 2020, 01:04   #25
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More photos: second Spider Monkey, White-necked Jacobin, Ocelot, Black Howler Monkey, and Common (?) Basilisk.
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