"Six Bird Quests, an Unexpected Interaction, and an Extremely Rare Encounter"
Sulphur-winged Parakeets, Quest #3- I really enjoy Parakeets! Each of the different life zones in Costa Rica (Caribbean slopes and lowlands, Pacific slopes and lowlands, dry northwest forests, Central Valley and the Highlands) have populations of Parakeet species. There are two species seen in the Savegre Valley: Barred Parakeet and the Sulphur-winged Parakeet- the most common species. Although they are considered "common" in the area around Savegre. Jen and I have never seen them in our four previous visits to Savegre. But the last time we were here five years ago, we did hear a flock of them off in the distance. We were really hoping to see them this year. As it turned out, they were plentiful and easy to find!
Just about every hour during the day (when it wasn't raining) you could hear a flock of them calling as they flew across the valley. And Sulphur-winged Parakeets are just like any of the of the other species; they are noisy!! Their loud and raspy calls are very recognizable. If you hear them, just look up, chances are they are right over your heads! I found it interesting how most of the birds here become scarce when it rains, and Parakeets were no exception. We have taken a few trips down to the Pacific coast to the town or Tarcoles to see the flocks of Scarlet Macaws. The Almendro trees that line the coastal road towards Jaco would be filled with feeding Scarlet Macaws....and their screaming raucous calls would fill the air. You would see small groups of flying Macaws trading back and forth from the Mangroves to the Beach Almond Trees in a near steady procession. But as soon as it started raining....all the Macaws would disappear and the air would grow quiet; the only sound you would hear was the rain splashing onto the Palm Trees. As soon as the showers stopped, once again, the Macaws would announce their presence and the blue sky and green trees would again fill up with a palette of bright Reds, Yellows and Blues.
This is the same with the Sulphur-winged Parakeets....when it rained, they were nowhere to be found or heard! But when the sun was out............
We didn't have far to go to look for the Parakeets.......everyday, a small flock of them would fly into the tall trees right in front of our cabin! All we had to do was sit on the bench on our front stoop and look up!-
On the first morning when Merino took us on the walk down the Jiiguero Trail, there was a clearing near the River. In the middle of the clearing was this single large tree that was a magnet for the Parakeets. The tree was producing a small hard nut/fruit that the Parakeets were feeding on. They would come to this tree several times a day...and would announce their arrival and departure!-
......while these were in better light-
Another beautiful Highland species, a pleasure to watch and enjoy. We saw Sulphur-winged Parakeets everyday in this tree and all over the valley-
Red-tailed Hawk, Quest #4- The Costa Rican Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis costaricensis) is one of the most beautiful Red-tailed Hawk subspecies in my opinion. The reddish/chestnut/cinnamon color of its tail extends into a wide abdominal band and underwing coverts....a beautifully marked Red-tail. This is another species that I have only seen once or twice at Savegre (or in the Highlands), usually a brief high overhead soaring view or perched in the distance. I was really hoping for an opportunity to see this species close, maybe close enough to photograph. Up until this trip, I only had one photograph of a Costa Rican Redtail which is the image below. This picture was taken on our third trip to Savegre in 2003. This bird was sitting high in an oak tree below our cabin and it is heavily cropped and adjusted. Although a record shot of the bird, it is the only image I had (so far) and the bird only sat long enough for this one picture and a brief look-
Well here we are twelve years later, and a Redtail is perched in the same tree over our cabin! This bird was spotted by Jen on our second day in the afternoon (while it was raining of course)! I had a weird sense of Deja' vu looking up at this Hawk! Exciting to see, but one hundred-fifty feet up in a giant Oak Tree is not what I was hoping for.-
The rain in the Highlands at Savegre during the rainy season in September is fairly predictable.....the mornings are sunny and bright, late morning the clouds slowly develop, by noon or just after- it rains! Usually by late in the afternoon the rains let up....but sometimes it continues until (dark). However, that doesn't stop your birding walks. The Hotel has an umbrella stand stocked with these large umbrellas so you can still go birding! Merino and I went every afternoon for our birding walks.....not always the most productive for birds, but I enjoyed our long walks and talks. I thoroughly enjoyed walking through and studying the breathtaking cloudforest environment. I think I looked at every tree and epiphytic air plant growing on those trees. Besides Merino's extensive knowledge about birds and this environment, Merino is a fascinating man to talk to and learn from. I looked forward to our walks everyday-
On one of our afternoon (rainy) walks Merino asked me if I wanted to take a walk up the orchard on the other side of the road from he Hotel. We have been up there before on other years, and the view from up there is amazing. It is a steep incline, but we walked slowly talking and (oh yeah) looking for birds. Merino told me that he was planning something really special near the top on the slope. He has planted many trees, plants and flowers creating a natural feeding area for many species of birds. He told me what he is planning for this area, and I won't give anything away here as I promised I wouldn't tell anyone.....but I will say when this is completed, it will be really amazing!! Keep checking the Savegre website for this....it is going to be really special!!!
While we were walking up this steep incline on the orchard gravel and dirt road, Merino mentioned that he knew of a single tree growing along the road that attracted a flock or Elegant Euphonias, maybe we would get lucky and find them in the tree. But with the pouring rain, it might be doubtful. If not, we will try again first thing in the morning for them. Along the way, we did have bird activity: Acorn Woodpeckers, Flame-colored Tanagers, a few Warblers, and other species. When we reached the tree, no Euphonias present....but the view was exceptional!-
Looking down towards the river through the Apple, Peach and Plum Orchard.-
Part of the planted area that Merino was showing me included many apple. peach and plum trees. The fruit on these trees (like this peach tree) were not being harvested, the fruit would be left on the trees for the birds. While we were there (even in the rain) Flame-colored Tanagers and many other species of birds were feeding on the peaches.
Merino was planting so many different types of trees, flowers and bushes here, all of them would benefit the birds. The flowers planted here were species that were favored by all the Hummingbirds in the valley.....some Hummingbirds were attracted to specific species of flowers. It was well thought out! Nectandra, Ocotea and Sapodillo trees were planted for the Quetzals, Toucanets and Guans. Solanaceae bushes to attract a host of species but mostly the Long-tailed Silky-Flycatcher, and a long list of other trees, flowers and bushes.......
.....which included Figs and these Peruvian Papaya-
We walked along this road a little farther when we approached the small A-Frame house you can see so clearly looking way uphill from the Hotel. In the only tree by the house- the Redtail! Again at a distance......
......cropped images of a wet Red-tail Hawk-
The Hawk apparently decided that he wasn't happy with us being in his territory, took off down the hill and vanished. It was getting late and would be dark soon, so Merino and I decided to head back to the Hotel, we would come back in the morning...in the sun to look for the Elegant Euphonias.-
As predicted, we woke to a bright morning. The sun was barely up over the peaks and Jen, Merino and I were standing below the tree on the edge of the orchard road. This time the small flock of Elegant Euphonias were here feeding in the tree just as Merino said they would. Jen and I were amazed at how bright and beautiful this species was....really brightly colored!-
Jen and I were really enjoying the Euphonias, in fact I was really caught up in watching them. Without warning Jen said "Hawk"! I looked up and saw the Redtail flying past heading to the right. I pointed my camera and took a quick shot just as the Hawk disappeared into the thick canopy cover. Not a good image, but at least we are getting closer!-
We stayed by (Merinos secret planting area) and saw and enjoyed many birds. Jen even found a female Quetzal in a nearby aguacatillo tree that was nearly picked clean of fruit. This was a good find for Jen, I wasn't expecting a Quetzal here. All of the sudden this Acorn Woodpecker on the top of an old decaying tree started chattering and making a fuss. We all knew that something was bothering it...I thought maybe a Squirrel, Merino instinctively said, the Hawk must be back.........
.....and sure enough, in a large tree a hundred feet farther up the slope, there it was! This was a great opportunity for all of us. We walked slowly behind one of the peach trees to get a better look at the Hawk-
We carefully moved around the cover of the peach tree to get a better view. From here you can really see that beautiful chestnut/cinnamon colored wide abdomen band......breathtaking!!-
We all stood there in complete amazement for five minutes watching this Hawk. Finally I was able to really observe, study, and photograph (in good light as well) this magnificent and regal bird! What made this moment even better was I was watching it with my beautiful wife Jen and our friend Merino.....who made this possible! Thank You Merino!! The Hawk suddenly turned and flew off.......
......the Hawk glided across the open air of the orchard slope.......
.....and landed on the branch in the tree where Merino and I saw it yesterday afternoon in the rain. I Thank You Mrs./Mr. Red-tail for this wonderful and special opportunity!-
Looking up from the Hotel that single tree next to the A-Frame house is the Hawk's perch.-
One of my favorite images from this trip...what a magnificent bird!-
Morning (near) Tragedy- No matter where you go birding, an unfortunate and tragic event will happen....which is usually the result of a bird meeting a car or a building. But that is something that I would have never expected to see/experience here in the paradise of the Costa Rican cloudforest highlands.
Because this is a/my blog....I as the blogger have a faithful obligation/commitment to report all of the events I experienced while in the field reporting for my blog. Sometimes there are tragedies, but sometimes, they work out with a wonderful outcome......this is one of them!
The morning was beautiful, clear, crisp air and the sun was just about ready to peek over the peaks. Jen and I were meeting Merino at 6:00 am like we did yesterday morning. While the three of us were standing by the office talking about our plans for the day, I caught a movement out of the left corner of my left eye. It all happened so quickly.......I looked just in time to see a male Collared Trogan hitting the power line near the office. On its tail chasing it was a slightly smaller Bird of Prey (which I thought at the time) resembled a small Falcon possibly a Barred Forrest-Falcon or Bat Falcon.
The Trogan tumbled down to the ground after hitting the wire landing in the small gutter near the office. I told Merino, and I heard him say with great concern "Oh no"! I walked over and looked at the lifeless Trogan and was really upset with what I was looking at.........
........I carefully picked up the limp Trogan and examined it for broken wings or other visible injury and then gave it to Merino. You can see how shaken up and upset he was, Jen was in tears! Merino started talking to the bird encouraging it to wake up.....he kept instinctively blowing on the feathers to try and stimulate the bird back into consciousness all the while pleading with it to open its eyes.........
.....while Merino encouraged the bird to open its eyes, I was stunned over just how beautiful this bird is-
I suggested to Merino that we place this bird someplace safe. leave it alone and see if it fully recovers. Merino agreed, he gently gave me this beautiful Trogan. Jen and I picked a quiet spot behind the bushes of the office where no one would find it. I placed the Trogan on one of the stones of the foundation of the office and the bird tucked its wings and shuffled a bit to gain a more comfortable perch on the stone.-
Merino, Jen and I watched the bird, and it began looking around, its eye wide open.
Since we were miles and miles and miles away from any wildlife rehabber, we decided we did the best we could. Our plan was to go birding for an hour, and when we come back for breakfast check on the bird. During that hour, all three of us kept thinking about that Trogan. We hurried back for breakfast.....we needed to check on that bird! Jen and I walked over towards the bushes praying not to find the bird. We were delighted to find an empty stone, the bird was gone! I even looked around in the area, and didn't see the bird. Hopefully, this Trogan made it and is now gliding over that beautiful valley!!
"A walk in the clouds"- the Virgin Oak Forest. "An unexpected Interaction"-When Jen and I go to Savegre, we always leave one morning open for to explore and experience the higher elevation Oak Forest.....there is no other place like it! I have always told everyone that it is so quiet and peaceful that you can actually hear the passing clouds rubbing up against the moss encrusted oak trees. Savegre owns a parcel of virgin Oak Cloudforest....trees that have been there since "forever"! This is an unspoiled and untouched forest where the thousands of years old oak trees may reach as high as one hundred fifty to two hundred feet tall. To sum it up...it's an amazing place! There are two main species of Oak that dominate the cloudforest (Quercus copyensis and Quercus costaricensis)-
The Oak cloudforest also has species that are only seen here in the oak forest. Over the last few years a pair of Ornate Hawk-Eagles have settled here in the vast oak cloudforest. Usually associated with lower elevations, its rare for them to be here so high in elevation. Merino attributes it to the thriving population of Squirrels and birds. He has seen them many times....usually soaring over the area. I would love to see them too. (hint- we weren't lucky enough this time)!
I am so fascinated with the Oak cloudforest, I included more images here.....every direction you look would make a magnificent painting!-
The sign indicating the Oak (Los Robles) Cloudforest Reserve....this section has 132 hectares or 326 acres-
This was our last day with Merino, so after breakfast we decided to go up to the oak forest. Although we still had one more full day and a morning at Savegre. However, believe it or not, we still hadn't seen any Emerald Toucanets. I really like Toucanets, and they are one of Jen's favorites! Merino thought we should walk along the Los Robles Trail since he sees Toucanets here often. He mentioned if they are not in the lower areas near the Hotel, they are usually here in the oak forest. As we walked down the trail, Merino played Toucanet calls on his I-pod....maybe we would get a response!-
The Los Robles Trail meanders across the slope of the oak forest-
Merino pointed to the distant tree tops...this is where he usually sees the Ornate Hawk-Eagles-
Merino kept playing the Toucanet calls, still no response!-
Merino is also really in tune with the weather. He knows exactly when it will start rainy by just looking at the developing clouds over the mountain. I found this amazing, and his predictions were just about 100% spot on! As we walked down this trail, and getting farther away from his SUV I started growing concerned. Jen and I didn't have any rain gear or umbrellas with us, and I had all my camera gear with me in my small back-pack. Merino looked up and said, don't worry, we have abut an hour and a half before it starts raining...so we continued on farther down the trail. We spotted a few birds here' Gray-breasted Wood Wren, Collared Trogan, Flame colored Tanager, Black-cheeked Warbler to name a few, but still no Toucanets!. Jen is very aware when we are out birding and spots many birds. While we were walking down this trail, Jen pointed way up to the higher branches of a tall oak. She said she just saw a bird in those bromeliads. I looked up and only saw a blurr as the bird moves...Merino knew exactly what it was. He exclaimed "Buffy Tuftedcheek"!!-
Merino searched his list of birds on his i-pod and started playing the calls of a Buffy Tuftedcheek.....and immediately the birds responded! One flew down to the lower branches almost landing on my hat!-
The electronic calls filled the quiet of the oak forest muffled by the mossy habitat....the birds were frantic, trying to figure out where the intruders were.....
They kept flying back and forth from tree to tree looking for the other birds tat entered their territory. They must have narrowed it down, because they stayed really close to us.-
Jen and I had never seen this species before, it was really thrilling!-
Now the pair was searching together for the intruders......
Studies of this really beautiful bird dressed in rich earth tone colors-
The commotion of the Buffy Tuftedcheeks attracted a few other curious birds.....Black-faced Solitare.....
.......a Ruddy Treerunner (also the first one Jen and I had ever seen)......
To me, its sad to see these ancient giants on the ground. The wind and storms take their toll, and in the end, these majestic giants return to the earth to help regenerate this magnificent forest. This tree was cut in half because it fell over the trail. Its hard to tell by the images here, but this tree was five feet in diameter! A real giant!-
Remember that A-Frame house and single tree that the Red-tailed Hawk perches in....here is a view from high in the oak cloudforest-
"Unexpected and Unprecedented......a very Rare Bird"!! One of those birding experiences that you we will never forget! When Jen and I met with Merino on the first night, we talked about the birding over the next three days. In our conversation he mentioned that a very rare bird has been seen near the Hotel. He told us that if we have the right conditions on one of the mornings we should try for the bird. When he mentioned the bird was a Scaled Antpitta, my ears perked up. I said "Really", "Up here"! Antpittas besides being one of the most secretive birds (not many people see them) it is usually found lower down the mountains on the middle elevations. Now Merino had my curiosity, I asked him what he meant about the right conditions. He said he had been successful with this bird with a bright sunny morning after a late ending rain the night before. So Jen and I thought that would be wonderful, it was his call.
Well, last night it rained late into the night...in fact it was still raining hard when we went to sleep beside a really roaring fire in the fireplace! The morning would be our last morning with Merino......I really wanted to go looking for this Antpitta!
I woke up a few times during the night and could still hear the rain bouncing off the metal roof of our cabin....please stop raining! The last time I remembered it was 2:00 am and it was still raining. At 4:30 I woke up and didn't hear any rain on the roof. I looked out the window to one of the most beautiful sights.....the moon! The skies were clear! I could hardly contain my smile....Jen said "Why are you up"??
Just like every morning, I was ready by 5:00 am and couldn't wait! I went out and birded the grounds of the Hotel while Jen was getting ready and before we would meet Merino at 6:00 am. Merino showed up right on time, and I just asked him one question.....Antpitta?? He could tell by my excitement that Jen and I really wanted to go for this bird. He just smiled at me and said (toying with me just a little)...."Yeah, this would be a good morning"! I can't really express to everyone here how excited I was.....Jen was more composed as she usually is! :^)
We started walking down the road along the river to the area where Merino has seen the bird. He knows that birds routine perfectly (hopefully we will find out). He mentioned that he sees the bird in a small patch of ground along the creek that flows into the River. He also mentioned that the bird only appears for a short time, maybe a few minutes, and then again disappears into the forest....so we would have to be vigilant and on our toes!
As we walked along the river.....the Torrent Tyrannulets seemed to follow us down the road....really cool little bird!-
Along the way, there is a small bridge that crosses the river that leads to another hotel. This is a great place to look for American Dippers. In fact we had been on this bridge the last two days looking for the Dippers (and also taking a little shelter from the rain). What I found really interesting and strange for a bird that lives an aquatic lifestyle.....the pair of Dippers never ventured out in the rain! In fact they would always be under the bridge we were standing on also taking shelter from the rain. We knew that because Merino could hear them calling from under the bridge! That was interesting!!
However this morning, they weren't under the bridge....they appeared in the river just up from the bridge we were standing on. They bounced from boulder to boulder gradually moving in our direction-
At one point, they were right below us! Great bird to watch.....especially when they "walked" down a boulder under water! That was amazing!!
The Dipper pair eventually passed under us and worked their way down the river. Merino said it was time to go look for the Antpitta. I was really excited!!
The road ended in a sharp curve heading away from the river. This is the area where the small feeder trout stream passed under the road heading towards the Rio Savegre. This stretch of the creek was only about fifty meters long....it was a small area. Merino told Jen and I that there is a small clearing across the feeder stream where the Antpitta will walk into. It will be visible there for only a minute or two.....that's it! So we needed to be paying close attention and really focus on the ground.
All three of us would stand across the stream and watch for the bird....we needed to be extremely still and quiet! We started down the path leading to the stream, and we ran into a Ruddy-capped Nightingale-Thrush and small flock of Black-cheeked Warblers-
Slowly and carefully we crept along the path making sure not to make any noise or branch movement. Thankfully the ground was soaked so we didn't have to worry about the crunch of leaf litter on the ground. We arrived at the creek and carefully got into position....Merino on my left, I was in the middle and Jen on my right. Merino carefully pointed across the stream and so quietly whispered to us that that the bird will show in that small clearing on the other side of the stream about five meters in from the banks of the stream. He whispered to us to pay close attention to the ground....the bird will hop in from the left side. I have to be honest......my heart was pounding, I thought it would pop out of my chest.
Because the forest floor was so dark since the sun hadn't even penetrated the trees yet, I knew pictures would be almost impossible for my camera. I had anticipated this so I set the ISO high and crossed my fingers!
The excitement of the wait was unbelievable......a few minutes seemed like an hour. We waited and waited....did we miss the bird? Did it show up already? Maybe it wouldn't be coming at all? Merino said that he was going to walk down the path a little farther...sometimes he sees the bird there, maybe it has already crossed the stream?! He told us to keep watching he would be right back.
As the script usually goes, Merino had just left when all of the sudden I could feel Jen grabbing my right arm! I could tell she was really excited...."I saw it, I saw it"!!! "There it is over on the left"!! I looked but couldn't see it.....I was starting to panic....did I miss my chance??!! I kept looking.........Jen said "It's right there"! I still couldn't see it........
She said "It's right behind that big dead fern on the left"! I still couldn't see it....I was getting so frustrated! But I kept looking......
Oh my God....there it is......a blurr from the left. I tried to take a few pictures, but the camera wouldn't focus. I switched quickly to manual focus and tried a few shots......the bird hopped off to the right and out of view.......
Jen said "It's still there"....I said "Where" Jen told me it was right in the middle of that clearing.......
And like magic....there it was, standing right in the middle of that small clearing, it was holding a small worm! Unbelievable, look at that bird! What was more amazing was that it happened just as Merino said it would!!-
The whole event lasted less than two minutes, but Jen and I were thrilled beyond belief! The bird hopped off to the right and disappeared into the forest. While we were excitedly talking about what just happened, I looked up and saw this female Green-crowned Brilliant perched on a branch. This is one of the Hummingbirds I tried so hard to photograph over the last few days but was unsuccessful. Now here is one perched only three meters away. I took a few shots and then the bird vanished..... said "where did it go"?-
Jen said ..."Look"...."its taking a bath"!! I looked over and we both watched this Hummingbird making continual dives into the stream bathing....right where we had just seen the Scaled Antpitta! I had read about these Hummingbirds bathing here in Costa Rica, but we never saw it! Wow!!-
While we were watching the Hummingbird dropping into the stream, I looked to my left.....the pair of Dippers were now in this trout stream right at our feet! This one found what appears to be a Stone fly or Caddis fly nymph.-
Jen and I were still celebrating the Antpitta, and the bathing Hummingbird and the Dippers, we felt bad that Merino wasn't here to enjoy this with us. Almost on cue...Merino showed up and excitedly whispered, that he had found the Antpitta.....just down the trail. We told him that we just saw the Antpitta on the other side of the stream. He asked us which way it went and we pointed off to the right. He said "Two Antpittas"?
We followed him quietly and slowly down the path to a little cleared lowland area along the Rio Savegre. He searched a bit and said to look for the bird there.....that's where he just saw it. There it is running just ahead of us hunting for worms. Jen and I saw it just as it walked under a large fern.....
....then it came out right in the open. I tried to take a picture, but it was still too dark! The bird continued walking towards the stream, and actually ignoring us!-
There it again, only ten feet in front of us, this is a little bit better shot!-
In the denser cover moving away. Unless you saw this bird move you would probably never see it.-
I walked ahead on the path and tried to anticipate where the bird was going. That was a good move, because it came out of the cover only a few feet away from Jen and I-
We watched the Antpitta feeding along the path and the area near the river. It slowly worked its way back towards the stream......
.....giving us many good looks at it. This was amazing!-
Jen and I knew the bird was accepting of us and we didn't seem to bother it. Many times we would just stand there quite still and the bird would walk by only a few feet away from us.....hard to describe how exciting this was....and how fortunate we were to be experiencing this!-
Finally....a small patch of sunlight broke through the canopy and lit up the smallest parcel of real estate! The beautiful Antpitta walked right through it, and I had the photo that I was so desperately looking for. This one photo (and the last photo I took of the bird) really showcases this magnificent and very special bird! What a truly incredibly "Unexpected and Unprecedented" birding experience. The rarity of this bird and the complete experience will always be one of Jen and my top birding experiences...ever! This is right up there when we saw our first Quetzal on our first trip to Costa Rica....that pair of Antpittas were heart-warming special!
Cropped and cleaned-up image taken from the above image. I have this image framed on my studio wall near my carving bench.....just a beautiful memory...and an inspiration. When we got back from Costa Rica, I started a caring of a Scaled Antpitta!
Here are a few images of the Scaled Antpitta I started carving after returning home and getting back in my studio. I am a long way from finishing it, but I am enjoying every part of it!
To start this carving, I needed to accurately measure a specimen. I went to the Ornithoolgy Specimen Collection at Yale to do this. The next two images are posted here with the Courtesy of Yale's Peabody Museum of Natural History in New Haven, CT. They had many specimens with regional variations, morphs and sub-species in the drawer.... I am holding the one that identically matched the birds we experienced-
Measurements. anatomical and plumage characteristics noted......
......the pattern I drew using the data I measured from the skin-
Cut out the wooden blank.......
.....started carving the blank and working on the head's features-
The bird is now sized and correctly carved to the measurements, anatomy and Gestalt features of the bird Jen and I experienced, observed and noted-
Adding the small point to the tip of the bill with inserted metal-
Adding the contour feathering-
Smoothly sanded and blending the contour feather groups, creating a soft and fluffy look to the body-
Carved Scaled Antpitta so far! Still a long way to go....and enjoying every minute of it! :^)
Costa Rica continues......"Part 5"- Savegre Mountain Hotel" (Chapter 4)-
"Six Bird Quests, an Unexpected Interaction, and an Extremely Rare Encounter"