Costa Rica part 2: Cerro de la Muerta and San Isidro – 2nd – 4th April 2017   Leave a comment

The last post covered our trip as far as Rancho Naturalista on the Caribbean slope of the central mountain range. From here we joined the Pan-American highway and climbed back into the mountains at Cerro de la Muerta, literally ‘the road of death’ as many travellers, unaware of the cold condition that can occur at 3600m, died as they made their way to the central valley where San Jose is situated.

 

We arrived at Savegre Lodge on the mountain massif of Cerro de la Muerta on a very wet afternoon.

 

In spite of the rain and low light levels we still got to see birds like this Ruddy-capped Nightingale Thrush ….

 

…. and Flame-coloured Tanager (this is a female, only the males are the vivid orange that the name suggests) ….

 

…. and Grey-tailed (or White-throated) Mountain-gem which was a life bird for me.

 

The following morning we searched for the elusive Spotted Wood Partridge, we were successful but my photos were useless. However we did chance upon this suitably named Resplendent Quetzal, one of the key birds of the Cerro de la Muerta area.

 

After breakfast we were taken by jeep to the forest above the lodge and slowly walked down via a network of trails. We found these Sulphur-winged Parakeets at their nest hole.

 

We also saw them perched nearby. The sulphur colouration is mainly visible on the spread wing.

 

Yellowish Flycatchers were relatively common. This is a resident member of the genus Empidonax aka ’empids’. The migratory species from North America are particularly difficult to identify and many get logged as just ’empid sp’.

 

A particularly cute warbler was the Collared Whitestart. When British settlers colonised in North America they found a bird with a reddish-orange tail and called it American Redstart after the European Redstart they were familiar with from home, in spite of the fact that they weren’t closely related. Later other tropical members of the same genus were name ‘xyz’ redstart. Of course redstart is derived from the Old English for tail steort (which is also the origin of the word ‘startle’) so these tropical warblers were named for red tails when their tails were largely white! Recently it has been proposed that their names are changed to the more appropriate ‘whitestart’ and I’m glad to say this is catching on.

 

Another montane speciality was Blue-throated Toucanet, a member of the ever shifting Emerald Toucanet complex.

 

We also came across another male Resplendent Quetzal, this time the red belly was on show. None of the birds we saw had particularly long tails, whether they were all immatures or still growing their long plumes I don’t know, but this subspecies generally has a shorter tail than the one in southern Mexico.

 

But the best bird of the morning was the Wrenthrush also known as Zeledonia (a name I prefer as it neither a wren nor a thrush). Originally considered to be in its own family it was then moved to the New World Warblers, recent evidence has shown they were right in the first place and it really does deserve to be in its own family. Hardly surprisingly this was one of my top targets and I rated it number two bird of the trip. This skulking bird is hard to see let alone photograph and I have used this image taken by Juan Pablo Solano  and the Asociación Ornitológica de Costa Rica. Our views today were brief but we had much better views the following day near Quetzal Lodge.

 

Back at the lodge, now in good light conditions there was time to search the flower beds and bird feeders for species like ….

 

.. Acorn Woodpecker (this species stores acorns in holes drilled in a tree trunk) ..

 

…. the beautiful Silver-throated Tanager ….

 

…. and more views of Grey-tailed Mountain-gem.

 

Later we transferred to the Quetzal Lodge which is just off the Pan American Highway at an altitude of 3265m asl. On the balcony just outside the windows is a set of hummingbird feeders.

 

As usual the hummers were completely oblivious to onlookers and you could stand nearby and admire or photograph them for as long as you liked. Most are Lesser Violetears (formerly Green Violetear) but the one on the left is an Admirable Hummer.

 

Here three out of the four are Admirable Hummers. At this angle the right hand bird shows the ‘admirable’ colours of the head and throat well. Colours on hummers are produced by refraction and are only seen from a certain angles. Thus a field guide may show a kaleidoscope of colour but all cannot be seen at once, as you cannot view the bird from all angles at once.

 

Formerly known as Magnificent Hummer, the species has been recently split into two; Rivoli’s in Mexico and southernmost USA and Admirable further south. There is a convention, mainly applied in the New World, that if a species is split then all the ‘daughter’ species get a new English name, so you can tell whether an English name has been applied pre or post split. That said, it means yet more names to learn and more potential confusion for the unwary.

 

The other common hummer at the feeders was the pretty Fiery-throated Hummingbird, which lived up to it name.

 

The afternoon and much of the following morning was spent walking side roads through some excellent montane forest. It was quite cold overnight and in the early morning.

 

A chilly pre-breakfast walk produced Hairy Woodpecker, a widespread North American species whose breeding range extends from Alaska to Costa Rica and western Panama ….

 

…. the rare and initially confusing Ochraceous Pewee ….

 

…. and Black-thighed Grosbeak, confined to the mountains of Costa Rica and western Panama.

 

As you can see the weather gods were kind to us. Of the many birds we saw one of the best was the Long-tailed Silky Flycatcher ….

 

…. a member of an unusual family comprising just four species most closely related to the Waxwings.

 

The Empids were with us again, this time another resident species, Black-capped Flycatcher.

 

We had been having very little luck owling. The first morning of the trip had been a complete failure and the night at Quetzal Lodge had produced good views of Dusky Nightjar, but no owls what so ever in spite of hours of searching.  So it was a great relief when we came across the diurnal Costa Rican Pygmy Owl.

 

Before we left this mountain massif we stopped at the highest point where the forest gives way to paramo. Our target was the rare and irruptive Peg-billed Finch which we failed to find (although the lookalike Slaty Flowerpiercer caused a false alarm) ….

 

…. but we did get excellent views of the high altitude Volcano Junco.

 

Leaving the cool (and now rather wet) highlands behind we dropped down to the steamy Pacific slope lowlands and the town of San Isidro. On route we stopped at a location where the beautiful and declining Turquoise Cotinga can be found.

 

Nearby in a stand of flowering eucalyptus we strained to see several diminutive hummers at the very tops of the tall trees.

 

Rather more visible was this Fiery-billed Aracari.

We overnighted near San Isidro and over the next few days explored a number of locations in the south-western corner of the country. This will be the subject of the next post.

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