New England Coastal BIrds

New England Coastal BIrds

Friday, February 6, 2015

Part 7- "Highlights from 2014 and Starting 2015"

 Part 6- "Costa Rica continues"- "Savegre Mountain Hotel" (Chapter 4)- the Final Chapter-

                          "Quetzals, Toucanets and the nearby Trees Full of Fruit"!!!

     Quetzals and Toucanets are always on the top of Jen and my lists when we visit Savegre. I tend to prefer Quetzals just a bit more and Jen to Toucanets.....but both of them are exciting to experience however. In our walks with Merino over the last three days we found many Quetzal and Emerald Toucanet nest holes. Most of them were actually very close to the Hotel. The two images below are of a Quetzal nest that a few months ago was active and produced two fledglings. This nest hole was just down the path from our cabin-

      Another Quetzal nest hole near the river-

      This Quetzal nest hole was up higher in the Oak Forest-

      Two Emerald Toucanet nest holes. This one close to our cabin near the River......

        .......and this was near a cow pasture along the road just before the Hotel-

      There were plenty of Quetzals around this week, but they were more spread out throughout the area.....

      .......this male near the cow pasture near the Hotel.......

         ......this one in the nearly depleted of fruit Aguacatillo Tree up the road by the quarry......

       .....this male was just looking magnificent perched in this tree along the road.-

         Stunning male Resplendent Quetzal!-

      Earlier in this Savegre report, I mentioned for you to remember the trees that were behind our cabin and the cabin just across the walkway from us. As it turned out....the majority of the birds we saw were coming to these trees! Jen and I could sit on our bench on the front stoop of our cabin and watch birds come and go from it....all day long.

     But what makes these trees so interesting (and the story interesting) we would walk by them everyday on our birding walks! We actually paid very little attention to them not realizing that a few of the trees in this cluster on the edge of the forest by the cabins were heavily laden with fruit-

      On our second day, Jen and I were sitting on the bench after breakfast changing our hiking shoes. We were going to take a walk around the Trails and meet Merino a few hours later...he was giving a talk to a tour group about birding and eco-tourism. I was talking to her regarding our morning walk and recounting a few of our experiences. I waited for Jen to reply but she didn't. I looked up at her while I was tying my shoes and she was just staring and pointing upward into the tree over the cabin across the walkway. I asked her what she was doing, and she said "Look up there" as she pointed to the middle branches of the trees.....

    ......"There's a Quetzal right there" she said. I didn't see it at first so she directed me to a larger branch that was angling up to the left in the middle of the second tree. Oh yeah, there it is.....right in front of us!-

     I walked over to get a closer look, and then I found a second male Quetzal, it was nearly directly over my head!-

     Jen and I watched these two birds for some time and I took quite a few photographs. Then I stared studying the area.....these birds are here for a reason. The tree closest to us on the edge of the forest and closest to the cabin was full of these small ovoid violet colored fruits about the size of an M&M peanut! The birds were feeding heavily on them.-

     I looked closer and discovered that there were three or four Nectandra and Ocotea trees in this cluster of trees near the cabin. The aguacatillo fruits were nearly consumed but a few remained on the outermost upper branches. These different fruit species ranged in sizes from as small as a blueberry to as large as a Strawberry....but there weren't many left. This tree in the front with the small violet colored fruit was full and was attracting many species and good numbers of birds. I started thinking about what I learned from Merino about the fruiting cycles of the agauactillo trees in the area. I was amazed at this small Eco-system in front of Jen and I.....the Nectandra and Ocotea Trees had been fruiting for some time. As the fruit became depleted by the birds, this other tree in the cluster started fruiting just as the other trees were depleted. That was amazing!!-

     We spent as much time by these trees behind the cabin as we could. When we met Merino later, we told him about the tree behind cabin and led him there. Almost on cue, just as the three of us walked up to the tree, a spectacular male Quetzal flew in and landed right above us! Perfect timing! I asked Merino the name of the tree (which I didn't remember) but he referred to the fruit as "Sapodillo" (Sap-ah-dee-yoe)-

    Besides the bird activity and close availability to these trees, it was a perfect set-up. The cabin has a wide roof overhang soffit which was perfect to standing under when it was raining.  It didn't matter how hard it rained, you had a perfect place to bird from and you stayed dry. And the birds were in close and within perfect view.-

    I took a few thousand pictures of Quetzals in this tree alone. We identified at least five different male Quetzals coming to this tree. Each one had a different upper tail covert length....some were quite short and the longest one was over two feet long. Interesting though, we didn't see one female Quetzal come to this tree, just  adult males.

     Because of their relative tame nature, they became very use to Jen and I and Merino while we stood quietly under these trees. I was able to take pictures of Quetzals from all angles like these shots directly under.......

     This male was only four meters over my head. It actually looked over its back at me. Apparently it was content  with me standing under it "Oo-ing and Ah-ing" it just turned back and went back to digesting!-

    Resplendent!!- What a magnificent bird.!-

      I watch birds for hours...not only studying their habits, and personalities, but I spend most of that time studying their feathers, feather details and feather movements. These birds gave me a completely intimate and private lesson, I feel so special to be given this wonderful gift!-

     Jen and I have been to Quetzal country, Costa Rica many times. Although I have spent hours and hours studying Quetzals, they haven't always presented me with the anatomical movements or activity that I was searching for to study. One of these movements was "fluffing"! Birds "fluff" their plumages all the time to re-align their feathers, clean their feathers, shed excess water droplets, etc. I have never been able to see this behavior before from a Quetzal. Because we had so much close and personal time with the birds in these close trees, I was able to study and note every activity and movement I wanted and needed for my reference notes. Here a male Quetzal "fluffs". I was really interested in observing a Quetzal raise and "fluff" all of its dorsal feathers, and it happened almost on cue. I have a good record of missing things like this with my camera....this time I was ready and captured it all!-

      Amazing! Exactly what I wanted to observe! -

      The feather lifting and "fluffing" here really demonstrates the feather movements and how they articulate....-

      This turned out to be the best Quetzal image I have ever taken. Not a good photo quality image, but for me as an artist, it is profoundly inspirational........I can't wait to carve this bird into reality!-

    Quest #6 (actually Quest #1)-  I have two ideas, one for a life-sized and complex carving/sculpture and the other a large highly detailed painting. The subject for each project is a flying male Quetzal in a particular activity. Both of these projects will be very complex and will take me some time to complete. I have enough study and knowledge of the bird behind the concepts of these pieces to make them. But I really needed to experience the themes exactly......I needed to be there for that "exact" moment in time when it happened. Yes, I could produce these pieces without that experience, but since both of these pieces would be very special to me, the theme would be somewhat "disingenuous" if I haven't seen that exact moment clearly.

     I have seen Quetzals do this many times, but it happens so quickly.....that frozen second in time remains unclear and un-focused to my eye. I know what is happening, but I need to see the exact anatomical posture ....what physically occurs in that exact moment in time.

    In an earlier part of this report I mentioned the feeding behavior of the Quetzal based on its anatomical limitations while feeding. Because of its small and weak feet, it cannot reach and grab a fruit while perched. The Quetzal must obtain or "pluck" a fruit from the tree while in hovering flight.  My number one quest was to photograph a flying Quetzal grabbing and picking a fruit from the branch of the tree at the exact moment when it happened....not after, not the exact time!-

   My prior attempts at photographing flying Quetzals have been fruitless! Usually the birds are at a distance, the tree is too dense to see it, the sun is at the wrong angle, its raining, its dark, etc. etc. These are really not excuses, just the normal range of challenges that occurred when I was trying to photograph flying Quetzals.

Here are a few of the attempts from our past visits to Savegre-

     Not the shot I was looking for, but might make a nice painting!-

     But with the opportunities of feeding Quetzals in the trees behind the cabin, and the closeness of the birds, maybe I will be successful??!! What makes trying to photograph flying Quetzals so challenging (let alone plucking fruit) is that Quetzals perch nearly motionless. They are usually digesting fruit so they perch very still on the branch. Many birds will start to fidget a bit or move a little when they are getting ready to fly. But not Quetzals, they just suddenly launch off the ranch like a have no warning or indication that they are getting ready to fly.-

      Looking up at the birds on the branches, I really paid attention to their behavior and movements (although sometimes just slightly) and I started to figure out when the bird would be flying off the branch. Although I started developing "Warbler neck" I was fairly successful determining when they would fly. With that behind me all I needed to do was capture them in my camera!-

    That became very difficult. First I had to anticipate (or guess) which direction the bird would be flying (left, right, up, etc) and then position my camera where I thought it would fly to....that is assuming my arms didn't tire out before it few off. And more times than not, I would drop my arms and the bird would fly off. I also tried following the bird in flight with my lens zoomed in....and that never worked. I would end up with a head in the image, part of the wing tip, or maybe nothing! So after many tries, I decided that just zooming back on my lens to 200 mm and capture the whole area when the bird flew worked out the best. I ended up with many shots of the bird flying in the frames, all I needed to do was crop the images and see what I had!-

    I found many good shots of the Quetzals with a single Sapodillo fruit being held in their bills....after they plucked them!-

     If you have never seen Quetzals feeding in a tree.....they are incredibly fast! The whole activity from flying off a branch to plucking a fruit to landing on another branch to perch takes two to three seconds! And I want to capture that exact moment in time on a picture??........

               Good Luck!-

    Then you have obstacles blocking the moment!-

     Nice shot.....not what I am looking for though!-

      More obstacles!-

     Wrong end!-

     Ohhhhhh so close.... a fraction of a second too early!-

     Got it!!! After several thousand shot!!

       Good image showing the small feet of a Quetzal!-

      Quest #5- Emerald Toucanets......"Where are they"??- It was a little disconcerting that we had been to Savegre for four complete days and never heard or saw one Toucanet. In fact that was kind of hard to believe. We had been to all the Toucanet "hot-spots" and there were none to be found. Even the trees behind the cabin that were so busy with birding activity did not attract one Toucanet.

     It was the last day of our time at Savegre. We would stay here for the morning and leave after lunch. We would spend our last night in Costa Rica in San Jose staying at the Hampton Inn across the Highway from the airport. If we were gong to see Toucanets, it would have to be this morning. We woke up before 5:00 am and I was my usual anxious to go birding just as it started getting light. Jen told me to go on ahead she would start packing. Come back later and we can go to breakfast.

     I decided to start birding this morning on the back deck of the Hotel. Near the office, they have a wooden deck with an outside coffee station for the guests that get an early start birding. The deck continues down behind the restaurant and lounge with a full patio and chairs. This is a great birding spot when it is raining. You can bird there quite comfortably during the heavy downpours. You will also be amazed at the variety of birds you will see there. One day  Jen and I were taking a break on the patio we had really close looks at Long-tailed Silky-Fycatchers trying to take shelter from the rain.

    This morning I wandered down the deck walk to the end of the patio. I was looking down through the trees to the ground at a few small birds that were foraging there in the leaf litter. I couldn't figure out what species they were since it was still a little dark near the ground. In front of me at eye level, the leaves started moving in the tree about ten feet from me. I was trying to figure out what was making the leaves move. I figured it was another Squirrel so I didn't pay that much attention. As I was focusing on what was causing the commotion, I never saw the male Toucanet that was looking right at me! It took a second than it hit me....Toucanet!!!!

     After that few moments of being stunned passed, I picked up my camera and did manage a few quick shots of the male. Being a Toucanet, it hopped through the branches ascending up the tree with each branch hop. I lost the bird in the higher branches. I then saw it fly to my left where it landed on a small tree branch hanging right over the roof of the Lounge. There it joined a second Toucanet, the female which was a little higher in the tree.-

     The male Toucanet remained on the branch and posed for me for a few minutes-

     Spectacular bird!

     The two Toucanets then flew into some of the taller trees right behind the cabins near ours. I ran back to our room to tell Jen. She came out with me and we searched the trees for fifteen minutes, no Toucanets. Jen was understandably disappointed! After breakfast, we again searched those trees, but the Toucanets were long gone. We took hike for an hour and then went back to the cabin to finish packing. It was a nice warm morning and the sun was bright and clear. Since our time at Savegre would be ending soon, I walked across the walkway to the Sapodillo tree for a few last looks and photos. It would be a great place to remember our birding experiences at Savegre.

     These trees attracted a long list of bird species: Resplendent Quetzals, Acorn Woodpeckers, Long-tailed Silky-Flycatchers, Flame-colored Tanagers, Clay-colored Robins, Black-faced Solitare, Collared Redstart, Yellow-thighed Thrush, Spot-crowned Woodcreeper, Spotted Wood-Quail (on the ground around the trees), and on this morning- three female Collared Trogans-

     I was watching another male Quetzal, and a movement caught me eye higher up in the tree.I put my lens on the area where the movement was, and I first spotted a yellow/green blurr in the middle of my focusing lens viewfinder. When the lens finally focused on the object......a Toucanet! There they are!-

     The female with its shorter and stubbier bill apparently was lower in the peeked out at me from behind a larger branch-

     It was obviously content being where it was and with me as the little scratch on the back of the head indicated!-

      Since I was only ten meters form our cabin, I decided to (quietly) run back to tell Jen that the Toucanets were back. As I turned to the walkway, Jen was just coming out of our cabin door. In my excitement I said "Jen come'on, the Toucanets are here"!! I can see that that made Jen really happy, she ran over and we walked back under the roof overhang and started looking for the Toucanets. I was crossing my fingers and hoping that they didn't leave. But our long wait was rewarded....the male Toucanet hopped down to the branches that were just over our heads.......

     ......he began plucking the small fruits and swallowed them as fast as he was plucking them!-

     The Toucanet show got better as the male jumped down to an even lower branch......

      .......and continued feeding on the small fruits......

       This male Toucanet was only ten feet over our heads!-

     Jen and I watched the Toucanets for another fifteen was incredible! It was getting late in the morning and Jen wanted to finish packing, so she went back to the cabin. I stayed on and watched these amazing "Little Green Toucans" for a while longer.

    I looked over to my right and there was Merino. He was doing a little gardening this morning and was walking up the path with a few plants that he dug up to be re-planted. I called out to him and told him about the Toucanets. He lit up when he heard me say that and he came over and joined me. We watched the birds and talked about them for nearly a half an hour. Then we said our final Good-byes and off he went! The Toucanets however remained in the tree where I left them. What a great send off! I was so happy for Jen being able to see her favorite Costa Rican bird!

       "The last night- San Jose"- "Heading Home"- After lunch, it was tie to leave. Jen and I missed Savegre already! We had a wonderful time here and with Merino. Savegre Mountain Hotel is our favorite place to spend time in Costa Rica when we want to spend time in the mountains. There is no better place for mountain birding especially Quetzals. The rooms are very comfortable and inviting, the food is excellent, the staff is very friendly and accommodating and the valley is breathtaking!! The Hotel will take care of all your needs including being picked-up or dropped off  from the airport. It was our forth visit here, and I know on our fifth we will have more areas to explore and experience! When you go to Costa Rica, Savegre is a MUST! You will find no better place in the mountains. And when you go, make sure you spend some of your time with Merino......and when you do, tell him I said Hola!

    Here is a complete list of the birds we saw and experienced at Savegre: Black Guan, Spotted Wood-Quail, Turkey Vulture, Black Vulture, (unknown Falcon-Barred Forest Falcon or Bat Falcon), Red-tailed Hawk, Broad-winged Hawk, Band-tailed Pigeon, Ruddy Pigeon, White-tipped Pigeon, Sulphur-winged Parakeet, White-collared Swift, Blue and White Swallow, Green violet-Ear, Green-fronted Lancebill, Green-crowned Brilliant, Magnificent Hummingbird, White-throated Mountain-Gem, White-tailed Hummingbird, Volcano Hummingbird, Scintillant Hummingbird, Sharp-tailed Hummingbird, Resplendent Quetzal, Collared Trogan, Emerald Toucanet, Acorn Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, Ruddy Treerunner, Spotted Barbtail, Spot-crowned Woodcreeper, Buffy Tuftedcheek, Tropical Kingbird, Boat-billed Flycatcher, Great Kiskadee, Gray-capped Flycatcher, Torrent Tyrannulet, Tufted Flycatcher, Black-capped Flycatcher, Yellowish Flycatcher, Paltry Tyrannulet, Mountain Elania, Gray-breasted Wood-wren, Black-billed Nightangale-Thrush, Ruddy-capped Nightangale-Thrush, Mountain Robin, Clay-colored Robin, American Dipper, Black-faced Solitare, Long-tailed Silky-Flycatcher, Yellow-winged Vireo, Brown-capped Vireo, Black-cheeked Warbler, Flame-throated Warbler, Wilson's Warbler, Collared Redstart, Black-throated Green-Warbler, Elegant Euphonia, Blackburnian Warbler, Sooty-capped Bush-Tanager, Silver-throated Tanager, Spangle-cheeked Tanager, Blue-gray Tanager, Flame-colored Tanager, Chestnut-capped Bush-Finch, Large-footed Finch, Yellow-thighed Finch, Yellow-faced Grassquit, Slaty Flowerpiercer, Yellow-billed Siskin, Rufous-collared Sparrow, Melodious Blackbird and the most unexpected and most exciting observation- Scaled Antpitta!

    Unfortunately, it was now time to leave. After lunch Merino's brother Pablo gave us a ride to San Jose. We were spending our last night at the Hampton Inn which is right across the Highway from the Airport. Pablo is the head gardener and grounds specialist for Savegre. When you see the beautiful gardens and plantings at Savegre, you will see how passionate he is.

    It was raining (again) all the way to San Jose. We arrived at the Hotel with about an hour left to the day. We stepped out of Pablo's SUV in the Hotels front reception area to the loud raspy calls of flocks of Crimson-fronted Parakeets! Jen knew where I would be going once we checked in!

     A few minutes later I was outside on the Hotel's grounds ducking the rain drops checking out the trees that surrounded the Hampton Inn. The Parakeets were everywhere! Although it was raining and getting dark, I was able to take a few pictures. The large trees at the rear of the Hotel attracted the most Parakeets, it seemed to be a night-time roost for them-

      Not only were they in the trees, but they were constantly flying over to all directions in the city-

   The large Palm Trees by the entrance of the Hotel were also attracting numbers of Parakeets.-

    Because it was late in the day and raining, all the images I took were naturally dark. I included a few shots here from a trip we took a few years ago of a Crimson-fronted Parakeet so you can see just how beautiful these birds are! Early the next morning we were boarding our plane for Atlanta and we could hardly believe that ten days had passed so quickly. I know it won't be long before we are heading back! When you go....have a great time!

         A few of my Carvings, Sculptures and a Painting that were "Inspired" by my time spent in           the Savegre Valley..........

                         "The Aguacatillo Tree"-  Emerald Toucanets..........This painting was inspired and conceived after our first trip to Costa Rica. Jen and I went up to the mountains looking for Quetzals and Toucanets and it left a very profound and lasting impression on me. On the way home on the flight my head was spinning with ideas, and this painting was one of them. I started this painting and the subsequent Toucanet carving (based on a similar idea). I worked on this painting off and on over the years and eventually finished after our return from out recent trip to Savegre. The painting is 24 in x 30 in.-

     Before I started the painting, I made many sketches of the bird based on measurements of Toucanet skins from the Yale's bird skin collection. When I was satisfied that I understood and was comfortable with the bird and its anatomy, I designed the group of birds how they would be depicted in my painting-

            I also designed the foliage habitat as it would appear in the painting using similar pencil studies-

                     My first "concept sketch" drawn with pencil and black fine design pens-

     A thumbnail painting.....these help you understand shape, color design and theme before you begin the painting-

       The painting would be painted with my favorite medium and favorite brand of Old Holland oil paint, and Scharff Brushes, which are the brushes I have used for thirty years-

      The painting changed many times through the years. The way that I paint is to block everything in (like a paint-by-number board) and paint from the farthest point in the background first. The birds are painted next.....

      When the birds are completed, I then concentrate on the foreground plants. Since the title to this painting is "The Aguacatillo Tree" I was ready to begin the very lengthy and structured painting process of the fruiting tree that will make up most of the foreground. I photographed this fruiting Ocotea (species -whiteii) tree near the Savegre Mountain Hotel on our second trip to Savegre. When we were here observing, this tree was heavily laden with ripe fruit. The Quetzals and Toucanets were feeding heavily here. I decided that I wanted to paint this tree in my painting. The process began.......

    I painted representative dark ovals on my painting that positioned over a hundred fruit in the foreground. After they were located and positioned, I started painting basic leave shapes and colors. When these were positioned, I started painting the branches.......

      ......when the branches were completed, I started back on the fruits with the first layers of color.......

     .......then I began painting the first layer of colors on the red caplets of each fruit......

         Highlights and shadows.....

      The first layer of many many layers of the light speckles were added to each fruit.....

       Days and days and weeks and weeks of tiny multi-colored and overlaying details.......

      Back to the details on the branches. Now I had to turn my attention back to positioned leaves. I started painting each leaf with a multitude of color layers and details.......I continued on all the details of the painting light, shadow, deep shadows, bright highlights, veins, imperfections, etc. etc. for a few months......

      Finally the signature.....well I thought it was completed!-

     After returning from Savegre, I worked an additional few weeks on the painting, reducing the amount of bright colors in the Bromeliads and adding many dead and dried leaves and edges to the brightly colored epiphytes. This gave it a more natural look.-

    Now that the painting was finally completed, I set it aside for a month t thoroughly dry and cure. Time for a frame. I wanted to make a large frame for this painting and also wanted it to have a hand-tooled look to it like some of the woodwork in the cabins we saw in the mountains. I started with Cedro (aka Spanish Cedar) which I purchased in Costa Rica a few years ago. I cut edge section of the frame and mitered the corners.-

    I carved the bevel of the frame by starting with an horizontal grinder-

     When the frame was roughly shaped and beveled........

     I started adding the tool marks first with a spokeshave......

     .....and continued with my gouges-

      For the back of the frame, I angled the back edge to aid in the beveled look of the front of the frame-

     I used many finishing techniques to give this frame an old weathered look-

     The moment of truth....fitting the painting to the frame-


           "Symbiotic Fragility"- Female Resplendent Quetzal, Natural Wood Sculpture-
This sculpture was inspired from this female Quetzal that we saw on an old overhanging stump over the road leading to the Savegre Mountain Hotel. As soon as Jen and I saw this bird, I knew that I wanted to carve it just as we remembered it!

     The piece is entitled "Symbiotic Fragility" which portrays the very sensitive relationship between the Quetzal and the aguacatillo tree. I carved this sculpture from Avocado wood which came from the Savegre Valley-

       The finished Sculpture-

   In the early stages right from the avocado stump-

          A little more progress......


        Adding the details......

          The finished female Quetzal-

        "Emeralds, Orchids and Jade" Emerald Toucanet sculpture which was conceived and compliments 
                       "The Aguacatillo Tree" painting-

            "Plumed Emerald of the Cloud Forest" miniature sculpture of a male Resplendent Quetzal-

        "Decoys"- "Functional Art"- I am always making decoys in a variety of species. I started making Cloudforest species a while ago, and have brought them with me to Costa Rica many times to deploy in the trees to help attract the birds into closer photography range.....but its also a lot of fun to put them in the trees and see what happens! I have also made many Tropical Bird decoys for Biologists to aid in their studies. 

                                                         Male Resplendent Quetzal-

                      Acorn Woodpeckers at Savegre, I made these for Merino -

            Female Resplendent Quetzal, I made this for Merino -

        Emerald Toucanets, made for Merino -

      Long-tailed Silky-Flycatchers, made for Felipe Chacon-

      Merino showing the pair of Silky decoys to his Father, Don Efrain Chacon-

        Felipe and his Father Merino-

          Quetzal decoy with Carlos Serranno, owner of Mirador de Quetzales and friend of Merino Chacon-

           Fiery-throated Hummingbird liked my Quetzal decoy!-

       My Friend Beny (orange shirt) with Merino hanging the decoys in an aguacatillo tree-

       Merino positions the female Quetzal decoy on his long stick he used to reach up to the higher branches and hang the decoys-

          Toucanets are next!-

        Quetzal on her way up into the higher branches-


                                                       MORE COSTA RICA..........

Red, Yellow and Blue feathers along the Tropical Pacific Coast of Costa Rica-

                     A Retrospective- September 26, 2009   Continues...........
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