Saturday, December 3, 2016

Costa Rica Installment 1 - Return to Poas (19-23Nov2016)

We started out our Thanksgiving vacation visiting an old friend in Florida where we used to live 10 years ago in Lake Worth. This was convenient as it allowed us to switch to a more reasonable flight on Jet Blue out of FLL.  The flights out of NC going to Costa Rica were not cheap.  So what does a birder do when in South Florida with a day and a half to kill?  Look for Snail Kites of course.  Snail Kites are more prevalent a little further North in the I-4 corridor and I had limited time, so I spent some time looking in the Loxahatchee NWR and adjacent Corbett Wildlife Management Area.  Spoiler Alert - I only saw one distant Snail Kite and got no pictures so I didn't even count it on my list.  I should get one in Cuba later.  If you thought the gun/hunting culture in NC was scary, go to Corbett WMA and take a drive on the loop.  It looked like a cross between Star Wars on Endor (think large raised At-At Walkers on wheels criss-crossing the swampy terrain) and Beverly Hill Billies.  No wonder I couldn't find any birds, they probably were all shot or crushed or simply scared out of the WMA.  I saw way more "hunters" than wildlife.  I did find a couple dead Coral Snakes.  The raised hunting vehicles affectionately called "Critter Gitters" because they help you git the critters, were everywhere.  If you have never seen one of these, Google it, they are HUGE.  I know, I should have taken a picture, but I was afraid for my life. The majority of hunters sitting on top of these were loud, waving confederate flags and many were drunk.  It's amazing what is allowed in our "Wildlife Management Areas".  They should just call it what it is, a Wildlife Exterminating Zone or WEZ.  I am not sure how these folks could afford these rigs, they looked expensive.  Ok, off my soap box and on to some pictures....

White Peacock at Loxahatchee NWR.  The NWR I visited was not overrun with hunters.

Fly-by Sharp-shinned Hawk

Gray-headed Swamphens were everywhere in Loxahatchee.

American Alligator - I saw a dude fishing waist deep right near this gator.  I asked him if he was afraid and he said no that the gators were more afraid of him.  Okay, whatever you say but I think I will stay on dry land.

Roseate Spoonbill

Upon arrival in San Jose, CR we spent the obligatory 2 hours working on the car rental and while my wife took care of the paper work I picked up a lifer.

Crimson-fronted Parakeet as seen from the Budget Rental Car lot!

It did not take long to make it up the winding road to our first destination for the next couple days, Altura Lodge just outside the Poas Volcano National Park perimeter.  The following photos are either from the Lodge property, or just up the road where a nice country dirt road bordered some nice montane jungle habitat.  All the trees were covered in bromeliads and epiphytes and birds too.

Rufous-naped Sparrows were everywhere and especially loved the gigantic Hydrangeas that were also everywhere.

Black-and-yellow Silky Flycatcher

Wilson's Warblers were the most common North American migrant and many spend the winter in CR.

I could be wrong on this one, but I think it is a female Scintillant Hummingbird.  My ID is based on the apparent lack of any green central tail feathers and a fairly slim black sub-terminal band on the tail which distinguishes it from a Volcano HB which also hangs out in Poas.  Unfortunately I never did see any good male Scintillant specimen which would clinch it.  The male Scintillants have a more Orange-red gorget versus Purple-red on Volcano HBs of the Poas region (other Volcano HBs can have a dark purple gorget - for example at Barva Volcano).

Yellow-thighed Finch - the parking lot at Poas Volcano was hopping with birds... It was hard to follow the family up to the crater.

Large-footed Finch - on previous trips I had only seen these deep in the forest trails in bad light, so this was a treat.  I had one of them jump on my shoe!!!  I kept having to back away to take pictures with my fixed 400mm lens.

Sooty-capped Chlorospingus - very common at Poas and it behaves much like a House Sparrow looking for tourist crumbs at the picnic tables.

Unfortunately the best picture I managed of the Flame-throated Warbler.  Fortunately that gives me reason to go back in the future.  I must crush one of these.

Some pretty large feet on this Finch no?

Sooty Thrush - I think these used to be called Robins, but now they are Thrushes.

This is the Large-footed Finch that jumped on my shoe and kept following me when I backed up to crush him (with my camera, not my shoe).  In a later installment you will hear about another critter that also followed me relentlessly.

Variegated Squirrel

Much more polite and cute than our Gray Squirrels.

Spangle-cheeked Tanager - On the trails proper we ran into a couple mixed flocks but photography was tough as it always is in the thick understory with backlit cloudy conditions almost the whole trip. More on the weather later but it actually did cooperate on this first full day.

That is a berry in it's bill not some grotesque deformity.

Collared Redstart - true to form a very active warbler and hard to photograph.

Ruddy Treerunner speed blur.

Slaty Flowerpiercer - this bird makes it's living by piercing the base of flowers to get the nectar.  A little destructive and probably the arch rival of the hummingbirds that depend on the flower to generate nectar the conventional way.

With a little help from Jeff P and the inter webs, I think I have narrowed this down to a Tracta Sister (Adelpha tracta).  Jeff pointed me in the Adelpha direction and I found the tracta species by going through scores of pictures.  Butterflies are hard....

Sooty-capped Chlorospingus

Just as we were about to leave the Poas parking lot, I spotted my main target.  Fiery-throated Hummingbird.

This bad boy never perched and so my shots were all rear end shots but what an exquisite rear end.  I know from past sightings that the "fiery" throat is very difficult to see in the thick forest understory.  Sometimes these guys will head down the mountain and visit feeders but I have not had that luck yet.

A guide in Poas was nice enough to give us a hint of where to go for some hummers down the slope a bit.  We did not use any guides as my older brother has an aversion to birding with guides but I did try and pick their brains when we ran into them.  I like to support the locals but at the same time I agree with my brother that finding the birds on your own is more fun.  So off to Freddo Fresas we went.  This wonderful restaurant and the garden across the street is the perfect place to keep your family happy while you get in some good Geri-Birding.  For the uninitiated, Geri-Birding is short for geriatric birding and is basically sitting next to a feeder and watching the birds without much exertion.  It's a bit of a derogative term so I hesitate to use it, but it has a certain ring to it that works.

I have nothing against old people and in fact I plan on being old in the future.  I seem to be getting there faster by the minute.  By the way, if you go to Freddo Fresas, get the Chicharrones.  Eating swine is one of my guilty pleasures.  As Homer Simpson says, pigs are "Magical Animals". What other animal can produce things like Bacon, Pork Chops and Ham all on the same animal? But they are also so intelligent and cute, so I struggle with my addiction. I try to avoid eating pork from CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations) but currently it is hard to determine.  In Costa Rica most of the pigs I saw looked relatively happy and free ranging.  Freddo Fresas is somewhere half way between Fraijanes and Poasito which are towns on the way up the volcano.  Fresas are Strawberries which are sold everywhere up here and can give you an idea of the cooler temps up this mountain/volcano.  Also sold are Lychees and an awesome type of Gooseberry which comes in a husk like a Tomatillo but is much more sweet and delicious.

Female Volcano Hummingbird.  Birding is hard and sometimes does not make good sense.  I got my presumed Scintillant up high and my Volcanos down lower which is actually the opposite of what the guidebooks say about these species.  That may be a clue that I got my Scintillant ID wrong, but they are found in both places we went.  The above photo is most certainly a Volcano HB based on the green central tail feathers which would be all rufous in a Scintillant.

Magenta-throated Woodstar - a specialty bird at this spot.  Look for the little ones with the white patches up the side of the rump.

The recently split Lesser Violetear (the other end of the split is the Mexican Violetear).

Slaty Flowerpiercer again.

My Dad is not a big fan of me posting multiple pics of the same bird, but I believe some of my readers are serious birders and appreciate the different angles to better study the bird.  If any of you are like me, you study other people's blogs before going on your own trips so you know what to expect. So unfortunately my father will have to suffer through some duplicates especially when the birds were so accommodating and offering crushes.

Mountain Elaenia - many of these at Freddo Fresas. Easily IDed by the yellowish edging in the tertials.

The aptly named Violetear.

A not so Magnificent Hummingbird - amazing what a little tilt in the head can do to improve this bird's appearance.

Magenta-throated Woodstar - if the white flank was not enough, look at the bottom border of the gorget.  It is fairly neat and restricted.  In the Volcano or Scintillant the gorget is more pointy like a Costa's Hummingbird.  Easy to remember if you think the Volcano HB's gorget is volcano shaped.

The only Stripe-tailed Hummingbird I saw all trip.  Easy ID based on the buff "shoulders".

You can almost see the striped tail here which is edged in white.

This pretty butterfly took forever to find online, but I think I have the ID.  Montane Longwing in the Heliconius genus.

Purple-throated Mountain-gems are a real crowd pleaser but I knew I would see a ton later in the trip so I didn't take many pics which now I regret as this day had decent weather and lighting conditions.  So beautiful.

A little more Magnificent Hummingbird.  These are big boys, but just a tad smaller than the true beast of the area - Violet Sabrewings.

Lesser Violetear

When they get pissed they flare out their "ears" which are really just part of the gorget.

Female or immature Purple-throated Mountain-gem.


Volcano Hummingbird!!!  Note the pointed gorget, green central tail feather and small bill excellent for probing dainty flowers like Lantana or Porterweed which is everywhere in the gardens of Costa Rica.

Volcano Hummingbird - note the lack of white patch on flank and the pointy gorget.

Clay-colored Thrush - the national bird of Costa Rica, picked for it's pretty song and ubiquitous presence. Note the yellow bill.  Mountain Thrushes look similar but have a dark bill.

This Purple-throated Mountain-gem was captured by my father who was intending to bring it home to his hummingbird sanctuary in Baiting Hollow, NY.  However, I convinced him to let it go free. I am kidding of course, he only put his hand there to show how tame these birds are and never actually touched it.

Back up the mountain before sunset I ran into some birds on the side of the road.

Slate-throated Redstart - my wife was busy talking to some dreamy expat Texan hotelier so I was left unmolested to take as many photos of this Redstart as I could.  I thought to myself why can't there be more dreamy expat Texan hoteliers to keep my wife's attention when we take walks.  You must understand, my wife simply hates stopping every 10 steps to look at a bird.

One more walk this time with my brother produced some more nice roadside birds.  This one a Spot-crowned Woodcreeper.  This is a higher elevation version of the Streak-headed Woodcreeper which I would later find in the Caribbean Lowlands.

I was a little surprised to find tons of Acorn Woodpeckers up there.

Next morning we took an early morning walk down our favorite mountain lane off the road that enters Poas Volcano.

Black-thighed Grosbeak.

He was probably using the grit much like a Crossbill does in NC to help digest tough seeds and fruits.

Golden-browed Chlorophonia - my brother got good pics the day before so he kept walking but I stayed with this bird to get good pics and that turned out to be a good decision.

What a looker!

Just as I was ogling this bird, a large all green backed bird with huge tail streamers streaked right across my field of vision at only 20-30 feet away.  A Resplendent Quetzal!!!!  To fast for a picture especially with my AV cranked up all the way but an awesome look none the less.  Quetzals are fairly rare in the Poas range but they are around.  I never ended up seeing another as we did not head into their traditional range but that's fine by me.  I will save the best bird for last.

Extremely poor light Long-tailed Silky-flycatcher.

This was the only pair we saw all trip.  You can kind of get a little idea of the coloring here.  A cool bird which I am determined to crush some time in the future.

Band-tailed Pigeons were abundant.

Very sad that this is the only recognizable picture I got of a Mountain Thrush.  This morning was very misty and raining off and on with horrible backlight.

Now for some non-bird pics taken by my wife.

At Altura Lodge my kids were tickled pink to luck out on getting this Whale Container as our accommodation.  Super cool for novelty but the next night my wife made us change to the conventional rooms because the wind felt like it was going to topple the container at night and holes in the side were letting in bugs.

The inside of the Whale Container which was actually just as expensive as the much more luxurious suites. Sometimes you pay just for novelty.

The first full day we had awesome weather and the crater was clear which is rare for Poas.  That night we learned that Costa Rica was going to be hit by the first ever hurricane to hit CR!!! Just our luck.  We were kind of freaking out as things were predicted to be bad and we were scheduled to drive some pretty treacherous roads to Arenal Volcano the next day.  All worked out in the end.

The immediate family unit.  My brother's family and my parents were also there but getting a photo of everyone was actually very difficult.

This donkey was onsite at Altura Lodge and his bray was the loudest and funniest thing I have heard in a while.

The view of the Valley from Altura Lodge.  What an awesome place!! Pure Vida for sure.

Next installment - The road to Arenal Volcano and the surroundings at Arenal Observatory Lodge.  We stayed at Phil's Villa which was a truly awesome place with an unobscured (when not cloudy) view of the volcano and only a short walk to the lodge.  Close enough but also far enough away that we felt we had the whole area to ourselves.  There we hunkered down for a few days as Hurricane Otto did it's best to rain us out.


  1. Jamie - your blogging gets ever better and funnier - of course the amazing birds and photos help too! And you got the number of photos just right - though of course one can never have too many hummingbird photos. I'm all agog for the next installment.
    By the way I just got news that this winter 2 (TWO!) rufouses are in residence in the same yard not far from Baiting Hollow!

  2. Jamie - your blogging gets ever better and funnier - of course the amazing birds and photos help too! And you got the number of photos just right - though of course one can never have too many hummingbird photos. I'm all agog for the next installment.
    By the way I just got news that this winter 2 (TWO!) rufouses are in residence in the same yard not far from Baiting Hollow!