New England Coastal BIrds

New England Coastal BIrds

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Part 4- "Highlights from 2014 and starting 2015"

Part 2- "Costa Rica"- "Heading up to the Highland Cloudforest"- (Chapter 1)-We decided to take a little morning trip to Orotina, a small town on the Pacific slopes about an hour southwest from San Jose. Orotina is located smack-dab in the middle of Costa Rica's mango growing area. Unfortunately, the mango season had gone by, so my appetite for fresh Costa Rican mangoes would have to have been satisfied from the mangoes I gathered at Hotel Bougainvillea. In the center of Orotina is a small central Park that is about a block long and a block wide. But this like all of Costa Rican's town Parks that we have been to, are great spots to go birding. And the Park in Orotina is known for its pair of famous birds: a pair of resident Black and White Owls. On our last visit to Costa Rica we stopped by the Park on our way to the Pacific coast to see the wild Scarlet Macaws. After a little searching, we did find the pair of Owls, sitting quietly in the upper branches of one of the large trees in the Park.-

      However, on this trip to Orotina Park we would not be fortunate enough to see them. According to a friendly refreshment vendor who was set up in the park......the Owls had left the Park about a month earlier. That's OK, Jen and I had the pleasure of enjoying them on our last visit....we will try again on our next visit! But there were still plenty of birds in the Park to enjoy. Blue-gray Tanagers-

      Great-tailed Grackle-

     Jen caught a glimpse of one of the most beautiful Pacific slope birds; Turquoise-browed Motmot. I was only able to take two shots of the bird before it flew out of the Park and left the area.-

     There were a few Hoffman's Woodpeckers in the Park, this one was enjoying foraging in the clusters of Palm Nuts-

      Strangler Fig trees fascinate me, and this one in the park was worth a few minutes of appreciation-

      Orange-chinned Parakeets were present in the trees throughout the park. Their loud squeaky and raspy calls could be heard everywhere. But what was so frustrating....they are so perfectly camouflaged in the leaves of the trees, we couldn't find one of them!! We could hear them clearly and could narrow down where they were...but we just couldn't find one! This image is from out last visit to Orotina......this pair of birds had made a nest in a very tall Palm Tree in front of the Government building across the street from the park-

      However, the resident Two-toed Sloth was easily found near the center of the park and a few yards over our heads-

     White-winged Doves walked the Park like Pigeons do here in CT-

      Beny had mentioned to Jen and I that a friend of his had just opened a Nature and Adventure Park near Orotina. They had zip-lines, cable gondolas that went across the gorge along the Rio Tarcoles, a restaurant and a huge tract of land. The place was called Turu Ba Ri Nature and Adventure Park- 

      Jen and I are really (some-what) adventurous.......but zip-lines are not really on our "priority list"! But the cable gondola ride across the Rio Tarcoles gorge would be fun! Beny turned left onto the gravel road and had a quick chat with the friendly guard. He started driving down this really long road....or I assumed it was. Along the way, the road was surrounded by dense Pacific slope rainforest......Oh look; three Toucans flying across the road! Birds there, over there.....Inca Doves on the gravel road. More birds there....Parakeets flying over. This was a birding paradise....just from Benys van! As it turned out, this was their driveway to the main building. We continued for at least a mile, and then I asked Beny do they own all this property? He said yes, and this was only a small part of their property! Beny also told me that they are a brand new business, and are starting to put Nature Trails in......I told him to tell his friend that this would be a birders paradise. As far as I knew, there weren't many/any places to go birding on the middle Pacific slopes....the birding possibilities would be endless. Not only did you have the rainforest slope, you had the cliff face along the Rio Tarcoles gorge, the lowland habitat along the river, the lowland rainforest bottom lands on the other side of the gondola landing, and more! The birding adventure here could be huge with all the diverse habitat variations.

     You could bird the road, bird the trails on the slope, go across the gorge on the gondola, get off and bird the bottom land rainforest, get back on the gondola to the main landing bird the area again, and then have lunch! I haven't seen any place like this for birders! I am not sure as I write this report how far they have come with their trail building.....but if you are going to Costa Rica, this is a must stop location! The road birding should be phenomenal! This image is from the cable gondola across the Rio Tarcoles gorge (heading back to the main landing near the restaurant)-

      From the main landing looking across the gorge to the bottom land landing-

         Rio Tarcoles, different birding habitat-

     We wanted to enjoy the area with a little walk birding the area along the road....but it was the "rainy season" and it started to rain just as our gondola ride pulled back to the main landing. We took shelter under the cover of the huge outdoor style Restaurant and enjoyed a delicious lunch of classic Coats Rican fare! When lunch was over, we said our good-byes to Beny's friends and said that we would be back to enjoy some fabulous birding (an lunch) with them the next time we were in Costa Rica. For any birders reading this and planning a trip to Costa Rica......Turu Ba Ri should be high on your list......I highly recommend it!

    To the Cloudforest- Beny headed south to the Highlands of the Amistad Mountains to our destination of the tiny town of San Gerado de Dota in the Savegre Valley to the Savegre Mountain Hotel. The legendary Eco-friendly Hotel sits on the banks of the Savegre River. The stunning cloudforests here are the home to the Resplendent Quetzal; my absolute favorite bird! The Cloudforests-

     The Cloudforests are incredible Eco-systems rich in diverse habitats such as this lower elevation cloudforest........
 the highest elevation virgin Oak forests-

     Its obvious why they are named "cloud-forests" are at elevations that are just about always shrouded in the cloud layers.....amazing!-

      Its hard for me to describe the absolute beauty that I see, feel and experience when I am standing in a cloudforest, but the calming quiet is sobering! I always tell people that it is so peaceful up there you can actually "hear" the clouds rubbing up against the soft moss covered trees when they drift by. Of course I always get those looks which are expected when someone says something so profound as that....but if you have been there, you know what I mean! As I mentioned in Part 1, I am also fascinated by the tropical plant species of the area especially since I study them to recreate in my art both in carving and painting. Epiphytes or "non-parasitic" plants "grow" on trees and other plants. They are also known as "air plants" since they grow on trees in the air! Epiphytic air plants include Mosses, Ferns, Lichens, Orchids and Bromeliads.....and the cloudforests are full of them everywhere you look!  Here is a tree laiden with Bromeliads-

      Bromeliads, Orchids, Mosses, Ferns, etc.-

     Bromeliad (family Tillandsia) and Ferns-

       This variegated and brightly colored species of Bromeliad is my favorite-


     Many species of Moss cover most of the trees-

      All by itself, a magnificent Orchid!-

     The Savegre Mountain Hotel is the Hotel we most enjoy staying in when we are going to the mountains. It is a beautiful Eco-minded Lodge with really comfy and cozy cabins situated in a valley surrounded by towering cloudforests. It sits on the banks of the Savegre River and is a birders paradise! In fact, there are so many birds that can bee seen right on the grounds of the Hotel....I will share a few stories later in this report! What Jen and I enjoy so much about the Hotel is TV and no Radio! The design of this Hotel is to help get you back in tune with Nature and the Environment, and they have succeeded. Although they have added Wi-fi connections in the Cabins, you still measure your day by sunrise and sunset.....wake up and go to bed with the birds! 

     If you have never been to the mountains of Costa Rica....don't be surprised (as we were on our first time) that it gets cold at night....yes cold. In fact near freezing cold! The rooms have heaters, and many have fireplaces......that's for us! Here is their website for more information:

      San Gerado de Dota is 7250 feet in elevation-

     The beautiful Rio Savegre-

     The River and its feeder streams and creeks are packed with Rainbow Trout. The origin of the Trout is a long and incredibly fascinating story which I have already written about and will share sometime on my blog sometime.-

    Near the Hotel, there are a few Trout Farms. At the Hotel, fresh mountain Trout is on the daily menu which I enjoy everyday at the Hotel. This Trout has a taste similar to wild Salmon or is absolutely delicious!-

     The feeder creeks and streams coming off the higher mountains are breathtaking.....

      ........with many cascading waterfalls. This waterfall was 50 foot tall.......

     .....and all these creeks were chocked full of Trout!-

     These two Rainbow Trout were huge, probably 6 and 7 pound each. Not bad for a mountain stream that was only ten feet wide. A true testament to the rich and clean habitat!-

     Four pound Rainbow Trout-

    One of the main reasons that Jen and I enjoy Savegre so much (besides the beautiful location) is that we can spend some time with our friend Merino Chacon. Merino is one of the sons and owners of the Hotel. His Father Don Efrain Chacon and his Uncle actually discovered the area and settled here many years ago. They developed the Hotel starting from a homestead and few simple fishing cabins. Its an amazing story how the Hotel came to be! Merino is also the birding guide for the Hotel and a known Quetzal expert. Actually, Merino is the "rock star" of Costa Rican birding guides. Besides his vast birding knowledge of the area, he is a pleasant and a friendly man, and a joy to spend time with. Jen and I were staying at Savegre for four days this trip, we hired Merino for three of them!  (Image below) Merino and me.....can you pick out the "Gringo" in this image?! :^)

    If you are planning a trip to Savegre....spending time with Merino is a MUST and will make your birding experience one of the most memorable! I wouldn't wait to hire him, he is in great demand. You should hire him the moment you make your reservations.-

     My birding needs are usually centered around certain species. I will enjoy all the other bird species in the area, but focus mostly on the specific species that correspond to my studies. The Resplendant Quetzal is at the top of my list, and Savegre is the best location in Costa Rica to see them year round. Jen and I never grow tired or bored watching Quetzals......just a magnificent species!-

     Second on mine and Jen's list is the Emerald Toucanet, (newly re-named Blue-throated Toucanet) or known locally as Tucancillo verde (or "liitle green Toucan"). -

     Third is the stunning Long-tailed Silky Flycatcher-

     Acorn Woodpeckers abound in the area, and I love watching them!-

     I am always interested in seeing Collard Trogan....a cousin to the Quetzal-

     The species that I kept missing every trip to Savegre was the Sulphur-winged Parakeet (a highland species) and hopefully they would be here this trip-

     The Black Guan is a really mysterious bird, and Jen and I find it to be a fascinating species!. Its a large highland bird similar to a Turkey or Pheasant....and it lives a very secretive life style. It feeds in the same fruiting trees as the Quetzal and Toucanet, and we have only seen them with short glimpses between the branches in the higher canopy. As it turned out, this was the only one we saw this trip, and the only shots I was able to take. Well, maybe better looks next time. The Black Guan has become one of my "must see and photograph" species at Savegre!-

     A very symbiotic relationship occurs between the Quetzal (and the Toucanet) and many of the small fruit trees in the cloudforest. One of the most important fruit to the Quetzal is the aguacatillo (or "little wild Avocado"). The aguacatillo is in the same family as the Avocado (Persea Americana) the Lauraceae family which also include Nectandra and Ocotea species such as the one below (Ocotea whiteii). The basic rule to finding Quetzals and Toucanets is....find the fruiting trees, you will find the birds!-

      Nectandra ssp.-

       Although not an aguacatillo species, this fruit is also important food source for Quetzals, Toucanets and Guans.    Symplocos serrulata known as "Corral" to the locals-

     But that isn't as simple as it I found out this year! I was under the assumption (shame on me) that these trees fruited annually like our fruit trees do here in CT (foolish gringo)! So in my naive assumption, I just figured we would go back to the same fruiting trees we visited five years ago. Since we were there around the same time in September, the trees should again be fruiting. It seems that many (or most) of the Lauraceae tree species only fruit once every five to more years! Wow...that would have never occurred to me! Merino told me that the valley was full of aguacatillo and other fruit tree species, but maybe only a handfull of them would be in full fruit. Many of these trees that he knew about were nearly empty because the birds had consumed just about all of the fruit; we would have to search for more and new fruiting trees.....that was a challenge I was looking forward to!

     This Nectandra tree (below) was in the early stages of fruiting. We found this one single tree near the top in the Oak forest. It may be a few months before this tree would be full of fruit ripe enough to attract birds. But what was the most fascinating to me....this was the only fruiting aguacatillo tree that we found in a large tract of the Oak forest that we walked. Merino said, in fact, that might be the only tree fruiting in the entire area, it would attract large numbers of hungry birds. This would be an interesting birding adventure!-

     Getting to Savegre- Beny turned right off the Panamerican Highway onto the road to the Hotel. Usually we are very lucky finding birds on this road as we drive...but it was raining really hard and the cloud cover was really dense, birds would be hard to spot. On one of the sharp descending curves, Beny spotted a whole family of Acorn Woodpeckers in an old broken down Oak tree. I managed to take some pictures out of my open window-

    Getting close!-

     Finally, we are here! As we walked down the driveway to check into the Hotel, a beautiful sight....Avocados! They are right up there on my list with Mangoes, Dark Costa Rican Cacao (raw chocolate) and Coffee, These were about as fresh as it gets!-

     While I was admiring the Avocado trees, Jen tugged at my sleeve and said to me quietly "look to you left"! I did, and I couldn't believe what I was looking at.......two stunning male Long-tailed Silky-Flycatchers, and it was only 10 feet away from us. I took quite a few shots before it disappeared into the bushes in the Hotels gardens. That I couldn't believe, we usually have to work very hard to find them, and here they were virtually at an arms length away before we even checked into the Hotel.-

     Within a few minutes we were checked into our usual room #145 (a Junior Suite). We said good-bye to our friend Beny and his wife Vanessa with a few long and  tearful hugs. Beny had other business engagements this week and had made other plans to be with us the first week. Adios amigos mios....see you again soon! Being the "off" season, besides Jen and I there were only a few people checked in and a few passing through tour groups we basically had the Hotel to ourselves.-

       Our room was located at the end unit in the cabins on the right. The trees behind the small cabin (on the left) and right out front of our room and the cluster of trees in the foreground of the image in front of our room played an important integral role in our stay at Savegre. This will be mentioned later in this report (Chapters 2, 3 and 4).........

      .......remember these trees.....they will play a key role in the birding here for us!-

     The rains grew heavier as the day wound down. Not the best scenario to go birding, so time to unpack and relax before dinner. I of course was too excited for that, but I did manage to take a short nap after a nice hot shower. On the way to dinner, the heavy rains continued. -

      After a delicious dinner, we were having coffee in the lounge by the open pit fireplace. From behind me I heard an all too familiar voice saying "Hello my friends". We turned around and Merino was standing was an emotional reunion after five years away. We all sat drinking coffee and sharing a few stories and talked about tomorrow morning. We said our Good Nights and agreed to meet at 5:00 am the next morning...Merino promised the morning weather would be beautifully bright and sunny! Jen and I went back to our cabin and I lit a roaring fire in the fireplace and we fell asleep to the crackling fire....and the dreams of a beautiful morning full of birds! Buenas noches-

     Just as Merino promised....the morning was clear and chilly, the sun would be making an appearance soon. Being in the mountains, the sun took a little longer to creep over the high mountainous peaks, usually an hour and a half after sunrise (which is around 6:00 am). Jen and I were anxious to get started looking for Quetzals. However we know well enough that Quetzals don't start showing up until the sun is up over the mountain tops and warming the chilly morning air. The best time we found to start looking for Quetzals was always after breakfast. Long-tailed Silky-Flycatchers however started feeding a bit earlier, often just at or just after dawn. Merino suggested we try for Silkies first and then go for breakfast....the Quetzals will be waiting for us after breakfast. Merino said he knew of a spot up the road from the Hotel where the Silkies have been showing up regularly first thing in the morning. There was a small stand of trees and Solanaceae bushes which are a small violet colored berry that is one of the preferred food items of the Silkies.

    We hadn't even approached the area in Merino's SUV as a small flock of Silkies flew across the road in front us. They landed in this small cluster of trees and bushes just as Merino said they would. Amazing, this bird species that has been so elusive for us in the past is now feeding in these small trees only a few feet away from us. The flock consisted of at least fifteen birds and they were actively feeding and completely ignoring us as we watched in amazement only ten feet away! Because it was that easy to be standing here enjoying these magnificent birds, a very humbling feeling came over me that I hadn't earned this experience. We should have had to walk farther, search harder, look longer for a gift like this! But a big smile appeared on our faces.....we did earn this and we were enjoying every minute!-

      Female Long-tailed Silky-Flycatcher-

      Handsome male Silkie feeding on Solanaceae berries-

     While we were watching the Silkies in amazement....I caught a movement out of the corner of my eye. A stunning male Collared Trogan landed on the power lines behind us-

     While we were watching the Trogan (and the Silkies) another male Trogan flew in and landed on the wires by a house nearby.-

       A really beautiful bird!-

     The flock of Silkies slowly dispersed and flew off. Time to head back to the Hotel for breakfast. Spending that hour with this flock of Silkies was an amazing experience, one that Jen and I will remember for the rest of our lives!-

     Its amazing how things have a way of becoming more interesting with time. As it turns out, Merino had planted many Solanaceae bushes around the garden of the Hotel...including right near the Dining Room and outdoor patio. Every day around lunchtime, Silkies would show up to feed on the berries putting on a great show right out the window from your table. If you sat outside on the patio by the Hummingbrd feeders....the photo opportunities were incredible! Often the Silkies would be too close for my lens....I would have to back up so I could take the pictures! Amazing!!We enjoyed these birds every day at lunch!-


    One of the many pairs of Long-tailed Silky-Flycatchers that would visit every day at lunchtime-

      Female Silky-

     Preening male-

     After a really delicious Costa Rican breakfast (Pineapple and Papaya, Eggs, Gallo pinto, plantains, tortilla, coffee and hot cacao)' Merino drove us up the road about a half mile from the Hotel. As I mentioned above, many of the trees that (were) laiden with ripe aguacatillo fruit were now just about picked clean. We looked up in the trees and saw only a few handsfull of fruit remaining spread out through the upper branches of the canopy-

      Even though the supply of food was minimal, Merino spotted a female Quetzal right away. We caught her just as she was swallowing a fruit-

     A moment later she flew off and grabbed another small avocado from the branches. Quetzals have very small and weak feet which are used mostly for perching, and aiding in nest cavity excavation. Because of their weak perching feet Quetzals cannot "reach" for a fruit while perched to a branch. Instead, to secure a fruit, they must fly among the branches grabbing a fruit in their bills. Once they secure a fruit in flight they simply fly to a branch and perch once again. Then the bird can begin the process of swallowing the fruit. They will also regurgitate the seed once the flesh of the fruit is digested. This is a classic symbiotic relationship between the "Quetzal and the little wild Avocado"!-

     While we were looking at the female, a male Quetzal had just flown in to the tree and landed right above my head.-

     Another female Quetzal-

      And a hatch year male was also seen in the trees-


     The morning birding was spectacular! Long-tailed Silky-Flycatchers, Collared Trogans and five Resplendent Quetzals in just a few hours. We also had many other species of birds this morning, the story continues with Chapter 2.........

           "Costa Rica"- "Heading up to the Highland Cloudforest"- (Chapter 2) 

                                    Savegre Mountain Hotel  continues.........
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