September 26, 2009
Costa Rica is a beautiful country, a true tropical paradise. The people are wonderful and Jen and I have made many friends there. For birders, Costa Rica is truly a paradise comprised of many life zones including lowland and highland rainforests on both the Caribbean and Pacific slopes, cloud forests, lush coastal habitats, dry forests, mangroves and river estuary swamps. With the myriad of habitats comes a most impressive list of birds, a list that tops an incredible 893 species.
Every time that Jen an I go to Costa Rica, we try and visit many of the different life zones as possible during our visit. These areas always include (our favorite) southern Talamanca Mountains for the Resplendent Quetzal (and other montane cloud forest species), the Caribbean lowlands (La Selva, La Tirimbina, Puerto Viejo Saripiqui), and the Pacific lowlands and the coast.
Costa Rica is a small country, and it is possible to travel to several of these areas in a single day, often only a few hours apart. However traveling from La Selva near Puerto Viejo de Saripiqui to the Savegre Valley in San Gerado de Dota is a five hour trip. To avoid spending too much precious birding time in a car, Jen and I usually rent a condo in an area centrally located to the areas we like to visit, minimizing our traveling time to as little as an hour or as much as two hours. We stay in a condo complex on the northwestern outskirts of San Jose proper in Allejuala; a county of San Jose.
We always take one full day from our schedule, and drive down to the Pacific coast to look for the spectacular Scarlet Macaw (lapa rojas its Costa Rican name), a bird that lives naturally wild in Costa Rica. The Macaw is found only on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica in a few locations: Osa Peninsula, Palo Verde in Guanacaste, and around the mangrove swamps near Carara NP in Tarcoles, this would be our destination for the day! We have found Scarlet Macaws on every visit to Tarcoles, it is a very exciting bird, and it literally takes your breath away when you first hear that raucous call, and then feast your eyes on their brilliant red yellow and blue plumage. Either in their powerful and direct flight when they are showcasing their long wings and tail or lined up feeding in the tops of the Almendro trees which are common along the beaches, it is an awesome sight!
But the best part of the best part of Costa Rica is to spend time with our dear friend Beny. We met Beny on our first trip to Costa Rica. Beny is a professional driver, and we had hired him to show us his beautiful country. Since we didn’t know anything about driving in Costa Rica let alone finding all the locations we wanted to go to, it made perfect sense to Jen and I. As it turned out, we made a wonderful friend, and having Beny along made our trip more enjoyable and most memorable. Each time we go to Costa Rica, our friend Beny is with us, we just couldn’t be there without him. To review Beny’s “American Service” services click on:
We arrived at Juan Santamaria Airport in the late morning, and our friend was there to greet us with big smiles on all of our faces. It had been a year since we last spent some time with our friend and his family, we were so happy to be back. Beny drove us to our condo, and we checked in. Our plan was to leave for Tarcoles first thing in the morning, so we said “buenas tardes and hasta manana”. After checking in and unpacking, and after a late lunch (“almuerzo“) there was a little time left in the day for some birding around the compound of the condo complex.
The view from the grounds of the Condo-
A few of the birds from the grounds of the condo complex-
……..and Costa Rica’s National bird- Clay-colored Thrush (formerly Robin) (“Yiguirro” Costa Rican name)
The grounds were landscaped with a beautiful garden complete with many native plants and flowers and a variety of Heliconia such as these Heliconia stricta-
and many native tree species including these Strangler Fig trees.
The lush gardens attracted many species of hummingbirds, including this Rufous-tailed Hummingbird
This Boat-billed Flycatcher was perched on an old pole near the complex.
In the tops of the tall trees, a pair of Red-billed Pigeons, a bird that is common to the slopes and foothills of the Caribbean side.
The tops of the tall trees were also alive with the loud calls of Parrots and Parakeets. Although these birds have bright plumages, they disappear in the foliage of the trees. I was only able to tell the possible species of one of these birds when a single White-crowned Parrot arrived and landed in the tops of the trees.
Yellow Warblers were present all over the area.
On the ground, a steady procession of Fire Ants could be seen if you looked closely, and yes, their sting is painful!
The sun sets early in Costa Rica; 5:00 pm. As the late afternoon sun set over the complex, the last birds of the day lined up on the peak of the terra cotta roof; Pigeons. I was hoping for something a bit more exotic.
At 4:30 am Beny was at our door, on time as always. After a quick breakfast (desayuno) consisting of eggs (huevos), gallo pinto (black beans and rice) and plantains, we started down the road, our Pacific trip had begun. The trip would take about two hours if we drove directly, but Beny knows that I do allot of “road birding” and ask him to stop quite often.
Being the rainy season, the morning started out with a few light showers, hopefully that would be all the rain that we saw that day, but I wasn’t betting on it. We have been fortunate and lucky with all our previous trips, we always had wonderful weather. The most that we experienced was an occasional light shower or quick thunderstorm for an hour or two on one or two days. Because of my schedule, September is the only month that I am able to take time off for Costa Rica. Although it is the rainy season, it is also off-season for tourism. Costa Rica is virtually empty of tourists in September, we seemingly have the country to ourselves. At the end of the exit off autopista CA1 Beny turned left on 3 which is the direct route to the Pacific coast and the towns of Jaco, Quepos and Manuel Antonio NP. At the end of the exit just to right was Zoo Ave which means zoo “avian”, Costa Rica’s wonderful bird zoo.
The town of Tarcoles (which was our destination) is located along the coast at the mouth of the Rio Tarcoles just before the town of Jaco to the east. The famous Carara NP is located in Tarcoles, and it is famous for its population of Scarlet Macaws. The Macaws nest in the mangrove swamps at the mouth of the Rio Tarcoles and spend the day feeding and resting in the Park. The birds head back to the mangrove roost at night, and then fly into the Park to spend the day. If you time it right (depending on the time of year) you can see the many flocks of Macaws coming and going from the mangroves to the Park. The birds will fly right over the road often announcing their arrivals with their loud squawking calls. But you don’t have to travel deep into the Park to experience Scarlet Macaws, as you will see the birds are quite easy to find, if you know where to look.
The road from Allejuala/San Jose to the Pacific coast is a long and windy steep mountain road which slowly descends down the mountain to the Pacific lowland slopes and then to the coast. There are many sharp curves along the road and many of them will make you hold on to your seat a little tighter as you round those curves just in time for the next one.
The road is very narrow, and it is hard to believe that two opposing vehicles can pass one another while leaving barely enough room between them to squeeze a few pages of your Costa Rican birds field guide in. Under the circumstances I decided to leave my “road birding” to the lower elevations where the road became a bit wider with an occasional pull off large enough to get at least half of Beny’s van off the road.
One of Costa Rica’s great treasures is its coffee production. If you enjoy coffee, than stopping at a coffee plantation to savor mountain grown freshly roasted and brewed hot cup of coffee is just about as good as it can get. It also gives you a small break to compose yourself and to settle your nerves from the eye-opening decent down the mountain “road”, On the way down there is a small family run coffee plantation that offers a full menu of their coffee brews. In the cabina shop, the small wooden tumblers full of freshly picked beans were roasting slowly over a wood fire, the aroma was intoxicating! The rolling hillsides are striated with rows of coffee plants intermingled with shade offering banana plants that lead your eye to the far distant sea.
The banana plants are planted by the coffee farmers for two reasons: to shade the coffee plants and beans, and to add much needed nutrients to the mountainous soil.
Two common species of trees are also planted by the farmers to aid in coffee production. The trees also add much needed shade for the coffee, but also help protect the soil from erosion from the seasonal heavy rains. The two most common trees planted are Laurel (Cordia alliadora) and Andiroba (Carapa Guianensis). Both tree species are fast growing species that can grow to large sizes in a handful of years.
With the fifteen minute break came a bit of coffee plantation birding. Along the back side of the cabina was a small grove of flowers blooming plants that attracted a few birds. The first bird I saw was scampering within the thick flowering vines, and it didn’t offer a hint of its identity. The bird was quite close to me, but I just could not identify it in the thick tangle. As I watched the bird pass through the small windows of light between the twisted branches, it suddenly emerged out into the open and its plumage was breathtaking. This was the first Red-headed Barbet I had ever seen, and it was well worth the wait. The bird stayed in the open for just a few moments and then flew off uphill into the forest. I was able to take a few images of this spectacular bird.
On the driveway behind the cabina was this single female Green Honeycreeper, it had caught a small butterfly.
A visiting migrant from the north makes an appearance on the violet colored blossoms; a Northern Oriole.
The Oriole stayed for a few minutes, then retreated back into the thick flowering growth and disappeared. We were about ready to leave when Jen pointed to the area where the Oriole was and said that there was another bird there. I looked over and saw this Bananaquit, it was in the exact spot as the Oriole was a minute earlier. Normally a bird of the Caribbean slope, I was pleasantly surprised to see the bird at that higher elevation on the Pacific side.
A Green Violetear Hummingbird buzzes the flowers and then perches nearby.
When we were preparing to leave, Beny pointed out a single bird in the brush near his van, it was another species of Barbet, a Prong-billed Barbet, another beautiful Barbet species.
The last bird to make its appearance just as we were about to leave was this Common Bush-Tanager
As we approached the lower slopes of the long mountainous road nearing the small town of Desmonte the farming culture of this area was highlighted by the many farm stands offering fresh fruits and produce proudly displayed on the shelves of these wonderful road side stands. Guanabana (Annona muricata)- Used for making juices, yogurt and Ice cream.
Mamon chino (Rambutan- Nephelium lappaceum)- interesting flavor, like soft and mild cheese
Peach Palm-Perivale (Arecaccae ssp.)0 I am not sure I will ever develop a taste for these!
Chico zapote (Manilkara zapota)- The sap from the trees of this species is called “chicle” which is the base for chewing gum. The fruits are delicious and sweet.
Cocona (Solanum sessiliflorum)-Used to make jelly and jam
Cherimoya (Annona cherimola)-One of the top fruits in Costa Rica, although susceptible to disease it is hard to grow.
Mangoes are one of Costa Rica’s top produce, and they are grown entirely on the Pacific slopes. The large mango orchards are visble along the route to the Pacific coast.
Mangoes are my favorite fruit, and we always stop at one of these farm stands for a tall glass of freshly made mango juice. Since the Pacific slopes are very humid, a glass of fresh and cold mango juice is a wonderfully refreshing treat, and for just $1.25, an unbelievable bargain as well!
Being a few minutes from the town of San Mateo, it would be a short diversion to the small town of Orotina where the most photographed pair of Owls in Costa Rica make their home in the town square. The mango farms of the middle elevations have been replaced by large orchards of another top Costa Rica produce item; Espavel or Cashew (Anacardium ssp.). The small town of Orotina is a charming, beautiful and classic Tico town. When we arrived at the town square it was early morning and the town was bustling with proud Costa Ricans on their way to work. Many were enjoying the beautiful morning sitting in the Park with their morning coffee. Jen, Beny and I walked around the small Park looking in the trees for the Owls. We couldn’t locate them, but we did find a stunning pair of Turquoise-browed Motmots-
While I was photographing the Motmots, I heard a “knocking” in the tree over my head and when I looked up found this female Hoffman’s Woodpecker……….
………..and another Clay-colored Thrush.
We circled the small Park a few more times, but we couldn’t find the Owls. I noticed a man who was sweeping the Park walkways of fallen leaves using a Palm tree branch. That was fascinating to me and quite ingenious, never mind practical! I assumed that he may have been the one who took care of the Park, and watching him work, you can see he took great pride in keeping that Park clean. I asked Beny to ask this man if he knew where the Owls were. His name was Senor Alonso Rodriquez, and he dropped what he was doing and began to walk us around the Park. Through Beny, he told us that usually the Owls are roosting higher up in the trees for that time of morning. Senor Rodriquez also said to me that the Owls will sometimes perch in the one Palm Tree that is located in the Park. He also said that if they were in the Palm tree they would be hard to locate.
On our final circle around the Park, Senor Rodriquez stopped and pointed up to the higher branches of a Caryocar tree. There sitting quietly on a branch slightly hidden from view was one of the Black and White Owls. The Owl was a striking bird with its black and white striped plumage projecting a very unusual plumage for an Owl. This Owl was one of the birds I was really looking forward to seeing, and Jen and I were very happy that Senor Rodriquez found it for us. After a long hand shake and “muchas gracias” (and a welcomed tip) he went back to his Park duties, and we enjoyed the Owl for a while longer.
As we were watching the Owl, Jen looked into the next tree and pointed to a “furry blob” on one of the branches. I soon identified the “furry blob” as Perizoso dos dedos (Costa Rican name) or a Two-toed Sloth.
The Park echoed with a cacophony of sounds of rhythmically blended car horns, children playing, town gossip and the chattering chirps of Parakeets. Pinpointing the raspy chirps of the Parakeets was difficult and misleading. But after a few minutes of acutely zeroing in on the sounds it was easy to locate the birds. On the very tops of the tall Royal Palms, Orange-chinned Parakeets were feeding on the palm fruits.
Leaving Orotina, it was only a short drive to the Pacific coast area. Beny drove down Rte. 27 to the intersection of Rte. 34 heading south towards our destination; Tarcoles. Within a short time, the bridge over the Rio Tarcoles was visible in the distance. As Beny approached the bridge, he pulled over into the parking lot of a souvenir stand. The bridge is an important tourist stop for anyone on their way to Jaco, Quepos or Manuel Antonio. The area of Tarcoles and Carara NP is a very unique and diverse area. The Rio Tarcoles is the boundary between the North and South Pacific regions, and this area is the transition zone between the tropical dry forest and the tropical wet forest. Walking across the bridge, the river bottomlands offered a look at the landscape diversity.
Looking east you could see the distant mountains of San Jose the origin of Rio Tarcoles.
A Great Egret hunts in the shallow tidal pools of the rivers edge……..
……..and a Groove-billed Ani forages in the shrubs alongside the bridge.
The bridge footings offer a good sunning spot for Iguanas.
But the birds are not the main attraction to the bridge, and the Rio Tarcoles, it is the massive American Crocodiles sunning themselves on the mudflats below the bridge that attract so much attention. Many of these crocodiles are enormous, some reaching nearly twenty feet long.
This one Crocodile has a plastic ring caught around its neck. Good news, a read a story in the Tico Times (later when we were home) that the animal was trapped and the plastic ring was cut free from its neck.
We drove onto the road that leads to Carara NP. We crept along the road searching for birds from the van, and suddenly Jen spotted a Swainson’s Toucan tucked up against the trunk of a tree not too far off the road. Toucans are one of my absolute favorite birds, and I jumped out of the van, and took a few shots. The Swainson’s Toucan (formally Chestnut-mandibled Toucan) (tucanas Swainson its Costa Rican name) is the only large Toucan species in Costa Rica that is common on both coasts. Its cousin the Keel-billed is only seen on the Caribbean coast and foothills.
I am always conscious to the threat of venomous snakes in Costa Rica, and never wander off trails or roads. The south Pacific lowlands is prime habitat for one of the most dangerous snakes in Central America, the Fer-de-Lance or Terciopelo. So I never venture off the trails or roads , I was happy to take the distant shots of the Toucan. As Jen and I stood on the road looking at the Toucan, a second Toucan appeared in the lower branches of the tree we were standing under. I am not sure if the bird knew we were there or not, but it gave us great close views allowing me to take these shots.
The first rain of the morning started and Jen and I hurried back into Beny’s van. Rte. 34 follows the coast and in the small town of Tarcoles, the road is very close to the beach. This is the area where we have always found the Scarlet Macaws, they feed on the fruits (seeds) of the Almendro trees (Terminalia catappa) (aka beach almond) that line the roads along the beaches of the Tarcoles area.
But one thing I have learned while searching for Macaws in the area is that the birds do not fly in the rain. We decided to drive back and forth along the road until either the rain stopped of we found some Macaws. Beny noticed a large bird sitting in one of the Almendro trees in the rain along the road. He pulled the van alongside, I opened my window and took some images of this adult Black Mangrove Hawk. Since we were only a short distance form the Mangrove swamps of the estuary of the Rio Tarcoles, finding this hawk along the road was a great find.
We drove a short distance south on 34, and I spotted another Hawk in an Almendro tree, this one was a juvenile Black Mangrove Hawk. Again Beny pulled up alongside the Hawk and I took a few images……
Just as the rain came, it stopped. I began to feel hopeful, maybe the Macaws would start to move, and as if on cue, the loud raucous squawking calls could be heard coming from over the forests on the eastern side of the road from Carara NP. Although we searched the sky frantically, we couldn’t find the Macaws. The calls faded and so did our hopes.
We all walked along the road birding for a while, and even though we heard the Macaws again several times, we never got a look at them. But we did get good looks at a Scarlet-rumped Tanager…….
…….. Blue-grey Tanager.
The road to Carara NP is secondary road lined on both sides by lush lowland wet rainforests. Some of the tree species common to the southern Pacific lowlands and coast and the Carara area: Purple heart (Peltogyne purpurea), Carapa Guianensis, Almendro (Terminalia catappa), Milk tree (brachium utile), Breadnut (Brosimum alicastrum), Kapok (Ceiba pentandra), Sapodilla (Manilkara bidentata) to name a few.
Beny taking a walk just after the rain.
While we were admiring the lush tropical forest, one of my favorite Woodpecker species the Pale-billed Woodpecker was spotted by Jen. The bird was a female. This large footed woodpecker species “Campephilus” is classified under the same genus as the two largest and presumed extinct Ivory-billed and (the largest Woodpecker in the world) the Imperial Woodpecker.
It was eleven in the morning, and we still hadn’t sighted the Macaws. We could hear them in the distance, but we still could not sight them. We drove back to 34 and I asked Beny to drive down the dirt road that lead to the boat landing where the Tarcoles Crocodile Tours boats are at the edges of the mangroves.
Along the way, there is a small pond and stream that often holds a few birds, and they can be seen easily from the road. Besides a few locals that live at the end of the road, there was no traffic, which made it easy to look for birds in the pond and stream. The birding turned out to be quite good, we sighted a single Anhinga perched on a snag in the stream…..
…….a few Mangrove Swallows……….
……and Jen spotted this regal Bare-throated Tiger-Heron perched in the branches of a tree just over the edge of the road. Nice find Jen!
…..a Red-eyed Tree Frog
At the end of the road is an old soccer field, and from here you can see the sand bars of the mouth of the Rio Tarcoles in the distance.
As we looked off in the distance, I spotted a tree with a small roost of White Ibis on its upper branches.
While we were standing there admiring the Ibis’, we must have been near a hive or nest of some very small bees, because we were suddenly being stung by these very small bees that delivered a walloping sting! We all ran back to the van, just in time as the sky opened up and the rain began to fall (again). There is a small un restaurante located right on the beach just down the road from where we were. Maybe it would be best to have lunch while we waited for the rain to stop. Besides, this restaurant is right in the middle of a prime Scarlet Macaw feeding area. We had found Macaws here on other occasions, often while we sat there and had lunch, maybe we would be fortunate again?
The rain continued while we had our typical Costa Rican desayuno of casado con pollo (chicken with all the Tico trimmings). While we had lunch, a pair of Red-legged Honeycreepers investigated the fruit feeding platforms that were unfortunately empty due to it being off season (we were the only ones in the restaurant).
While we were watching the Honeycreepers, an incredibly stunning Golden-hooded Tanager came to the feeding platforms. This species is breathtaking!
As we ate lunch, we enjoyed a show of a small gathering of Brown Pelicans on the beach which came and went while we were there.
This flock found a suitable roost on this moored fishing boat.
These three pelicans decided on a roost high in this Almendro tree.
The beaches of Tarcoles are not actually on the ocean, they are located along the shore at the mouth of the Gulf of Nicoya. Since the Rio Tarcoles is (unfortunately) muddy and polluted, the water along the beaches is brown and cloudy, not crystal blue and emerald green as it is a few miles south by Jaco and Quepos. While we were watching the Pelicans come and go, distant Magnificent Frigatebirds (my absolute favorite sea bird) were soaring off shore coming from the inner waters of the Gulf of Nicoya.
This one was harassing an Elegant Tern which it followed out to sea.
A shrimping boat passed by heading out for a days fishing.
The coastline of Tarcoles…..
It was obvious that this boat was not returning to port with a full hold of shrimp. When the boat is full with its catch, the birds know it, and this is what it usually looks like. The entire boat is covered with Magnificent Frigatebirds and Brown Boobies. Picture taken a few years earlier in the same area. (poor quality, the original image was a photograph, it was reprinted as a digital image). (Original photographs and negatives courtesy Richard Pleines
The waiter of the restaurant told us that many birds usually visit the fruit feeder during the day, and two of the species he described were a Toucan and a Scarlet-rumped Tanager. Since I had these two species of decoys with me, I decided to have a little fun while we were eating, and deploy the decoys in the bushes near the feeders.
Unfortunately, no birds showed up to sit with the decoys, but I tried! I made the Tanager for Beny, it is one of his favorite species, (he likes red birds).
However while we were finishing our lunch, we did have a visit from a Scarlet-fronted Parakeet and a White-crowned Parrot. Our waiter suddenly became excited and animated as if the birds were new to their feeders. We were all excited at the sight of these birds as well. When I saw him hand-feeding the White-crowned, I realized the birds were obviously his tame pets,; he got this Gringo!
Anyway the rain stopped, so- “la quenta por favor” (the check please)! We took a little walk on the beach behind the cantina. The small gardens along the beach had a few Coconut Palm trees…..
……….and many Papaya plants (not a tree)……
…..and Sour Oranges, and yes they are sour!!
A few drifted coconuts were on the beach, and all were germinating.
Jen grabbed my arm and pointed up, there in the Coconut Palm tree a few feet over our heads was this Black Vulture, it was drying its wings.
We noticed another bird flying up from the beach and landing with a few other birds in the top of the large trees; Crested Caracara.
Just as we stepped out of the front of the restaurant, and almost on cue, we heard the loud squawking above us, and this time, we had a wonderful look at a pair of Scarlet Macaws, they were right over our heads. They were flying right down the road along the beach.
I suggested to Beny that we drive south and follow the Macaws, maybe they were settling in farther down the road. Just as we started out another pair flew the other direction heading north back towards the bridge.
After we turned around, we drove a short distance, and then hit a gold mine; the very top branches of the trees were covered with Scarlet Macaws…….
As I was ready to step out of the van to take better shots, Beny pointed to the tree just across the street. There was a pair of Macaws on a lower branch. One of the birds was begging for food. I realized that the bird was a fledgling, and the parent was feeding it.
The entire area had many Macaws in the trees. They stayed for fifteen minutes and then they all took off and flew to the deep reaches of Carara. This was an unbelievable sighting. We must have seen three dozen Scarlet Macaws.
Feeling completely satisfied with the “Macaw show” we decided to head back to San Jose, since we were planning an early start the next day for two days in the Caribbean lowlands. As I was walking back to the van, I looked up and another immature Mangrove Black Hawk landed on the power pole right in front of me.
After admiring the Hawk and taking a string of images, I turned to go back to the van. Beny had pulled the van a little farther down the road to a safer pull off, so I started walking down the road to them. Just as I was a few steps from the van, I was startled by a commotion in the top of one of the Almendro trees. I looked up, and there was this single Scarlet Macaw, it was reaching over for the last almond on the tip of the branch. I quickly took a few images of this spectacular bird which was only a few yards from me. The bird was obviously startled by me, and it took off showing its unbelievable colors! If you have never seen a Scarlet Macaw in the wild, you can’t imagine how beautiful and spectacular they are; they are amazing, a real winged treasure!
Almendro trees (Terminalia catappa) (aka-Beach Almond, Indian Almond, Sea Almond, Wild Almond) are native to India and is a fast growing tree. They are a very salt tolerant tree species that grow readily in sand usually along and on beaches (beach almond).
The fruit (seed) has a fleshy covering surrounding the internal seed. This seed is an important food item of the Scarlet Macaw, and since so many of these trees grow along the southern Pacific coast, it attracts the Scarlet Macaw.
The beautiful wood is very hard and is popular with exotic wood furniture makers. Below is an image of the wood from my inventory, it came from hurricane salvaged trees from Florida.
On the beach near the Almendro trees was this amazing Ficus tree……
The sun was in and out during the day, and as we were leaving Tarcoles we spotted this Black Vulture drying its wings…..
……..and another Boat-billed Flycatcher……
…….and this distant Black-shouldered Kite, a favorite raptor of mine.
We also spotted this family of Coatimundi foraging along the road.
The day as it turned out was a wonderful success. Not only did we share an amazing experience with Lapa Rojas, but we also encountered an arm full of fabulous tropical species. This was the first time that I was very close to the Black Mangrove Hawk, but to locate three of them all within a short distance of each other was a great gift.
When we approached the outskirts of San Jose, I looked over an noticed large Macaw carvings (some over six feet tall) standing proud like monuments in a Park. I asked Beny to drive over to the carvings so we can look at them.
I wasn’t sure why the carvings were standing along this dirt road, but as we got closer the reason was clear. On the edge of this short dirt road was a large stack of logged timber, and just across this narrow road, was another Costa Rican treasure. In the driveway was a gathering of “in progress” carved Macaws all being fashioned by a young man with a chain saw. He was working on several Macaw totems, and the chips and dust was flying. The carving in these birds was amazing, considering the rough tools he was using; a chain saw and a large rasp. As we watched him work, I could see the skills that this carver possessed, he was producing beautiful sculpted art, works that belonged in the Museo Nacional de Costa Rica (National Museum).
The introductions were made, and his name was Mauricio Bell. Mauricio introduced his family to us, and we were privileged by the opportunity to meet his family. He showed us his work and he explained his carving process to me. Mauricio carves his birds for affluent business men and women in San Jose. He also told me that his customers like him to paint his sculptures in bright colors, explaining the reasons for this being his culture.
I noticed the beautiful exotic woods that he was using for his carving; Laurel, Andiroba, Almendro, Nazerino, Nanciton, just to name a few. I couldn’t help thinking how spectacular his sculptures would be if he highlighted the natural beauty and look of the wood if they were finished naturally and not painted. I mentioned to him the beautiful wood sculptures in the Museo Nacional. Mauricio like me is also concerned about the over-cutting of the forests, and he told me that he buys his wood from salvage and controlled culling practices which is what I do. He also told me that he never thought about leaving his birds natural. He mentioned to me that his customers liked the bright colors, but he was going to the Museo Nacional to look at those sculptures, maybe he would try something new.
The charts below indicate the areas Jen and I and Beny were. The "pink" arrow is the location of our cono. "Green" arrow is the location of the coffee plantation, the blue arrow is the Orotina town square, and the red arrow is the area around Tarcoles.
Here are two of the animal sculptures from the Museo Nacional which Jen and I really appreciated. I was greatly inspired by these works, they made a very profound impact on my art!
.....and the clay scupture I am currently working on to be used as a model for a carved sculpture of Perezoso, inspired from the above sculpture-
Here is the finished Scarlet Macaw decoy.......
.......and a few images of the painting process.
When we returned home from our Costa Rican vacation, my mind was spinning with ideas. Between the sculptures in the Museo Nacional and the magical sculptures of Mauricio and the experiences from and with the birds, I had enough inspiration in my mind to keep me busy for a long time. Here are a few carvings that were born of Costa Rican influence.
I carved this Frigatebird for Jen. The Magnificent Frigatebird is my absolute favorite sea bird and I enjoyed making this for her.
These two pieces are “in progress”. The Mangrove Black Hawk is a half-sized miniature, and the Frigatebird is life-size.
If you are planning a trip to Costa Rica for the first time, you will have the time of your life. I will be glad to help you and offer any advice I can to help make your trip the best and most enjoyable. I would suggest considering hiring our friend Beny to drive you around and show you his beautiful country. Beny is a kind man and fun to be around. He is professional, and you will not have one problem with Beny taking care of you. Beny is not a bird guide, but he knows his country, and with the many times he spent with us, he has a good idea where certain birds can be found.
Let me share a quick anecdote with you. We were searching for Toucans on the Caribbean foothills in the town of Puerto Viejo de Saripiqui. We hired a personal naturalist guide to lead us to where the large gathering of Toucans were. We searched all morning and it became clear that this guide could care less about being with us, in fact he didn’t want to show up for us because he had planned to take the day off. Beny being quite astute and aware of my disappointment, suddenly pulled out his cell phone and started calling all around to his friends to find out where the Toucans were and where they could be found at that time late in the morning. (because of the extreme heat and humidity during the day, Toucans will retreat to the deep forest for a “siesta”). The best time of day to see Toucans is first thing in the morning. Beny eventually found someone to take us to the birds, and we found flocks of them! The amusing aspect to this story is still firmly etched in my mind. Here we were deep in a rainforest with the only sounds being the grinding calls of Cicadas, and beads of perspiration running down our foreheads. Suddenly Beny pulls out his cell phone and all my romantic visions of the lush and wild tropical rainforests are amended with the introduction of modern technology! I am still shaking my head over that one!
I hope you enjoyed this short story! I will have many more coming, please check back from time to time!
Keith and Jen Mueller