Costa Rica part 7: northernmost Costa Rica; 15/4 – 17/4 2017   Leave a comment

This post covers two areas in northernmost Costa Rica, the areas around Celeste Mountain Lodge and Heliconia Lodge,a boat trip on the Rio Frio near Cano Negro and birding in nearby marshes..

 

From Monteverde we made our way to the beautiful Celeste Mountain Lodge.

 

This lodge, with it’s open plan architecture was a delightful place to stay with great views of the surrounding forest and excellent food. The birder on the left is looking out of a slidable picture window that looks straight onto an elevated bird feeding platform.

 

Hoised up by pulleys, the platform is host to Passerini’s, Palm and Golden-hooded Tanagers, Black-cowled Oriole and Clay-coloured Thrush.

 

Visitors included common birds like Great Kiskadee ….

 

….. and male and female Passerini’s Tanagers. The male looks almost identical to Cherrie’s Tanager of the south-west that I uploaded previously but the female has a greyer head and a reddish blush to the upper breast and rump.

 

Joining them here are the subtle Palm Tanager and gaudy Golden-headed Tanager.

 

This was the only place we saw Crimson-collared Tanager, a life bird for me.

 

Another of the look-alight euphonias. The fact that the yellow comes to a point below the bill rather than there being a wholy dark-blue chin shows that this is a Yellow-throated Euphonia rather than one of its congeners.

 

Black-cowled Orioles appeared at the feeder and in the nearby trees.

 

We stayed overnight at Celeste Mountain Lodge and before we left the next day ….

 

…. we were rewarded with excellent views of the elusive White-tipped Sicklebill which seldom sticks around for photos. A specialist of heliconia flowers (hence the unusual bill shape) the species ranges from Costa Rica to northern Peru but is difficult everywhere and I have only seen it once before (on my 1981 Costa Rica trip).

 

These were not the only feeders in the area; at the entrance to the nearby national park Passerini’s and Palm Tanagers were joined by a Red-legged Honeycreeper.

 

Honeycreepers are part of the main tanager family Thraupidae. Here is daddy ….

 

and this is his ‘son’ (females don’t have the dark remiges and coverts).

 

We spent much of the following morning at an area of rainforest behind nearby Heliconia Lodge. This deep gully was crossed by several suspension bridges.

 

Mel crosses the bridge in the morning mist, but worryingly another bridge had collapsed forcing us to cross the gully the hard way.

 

Birding here was difficult and although we scored with a few nice birds progress was slow. Perhaps the highlight was our best view of Hoffman’s Two-toed Sloth. I know what you’re thinking ‘its got three toes’ All sloths have three toes on the hind limbs, its the number on the forelimbs that separates the three-toed and two-toed species. From here we had distant views over a large body of water with land beyond it. Initially I thought it must be the Gulf of Nicoya that we had seen on route to Hacienda Solimar, but that was far to the south. Others said it was the Caribbean coast but that was too far away as well. It was in fact the enormous Largo Cocibolca in Nicaragua. Unfortunately due to mist and heat haze I didn’t bother with any photos.

 

In the late afternoon we checked out a site for Lovely Cotinga, which looks quite like the Turquoise Cotinga that I illustrated in post #2. Some of us spread out looking for the bird, but it was those who hung around by the bus who scored. I was some way way down hill and arrived breathless only to see it fly. This was the most disappointing experience of the whole trip.

 

A gathering of Swallow-tailed Kites, nice as they were, were little compensation.

 

We arrived at out next destination, the hotel at Cano Negro well after dark and were welcomed by an imitation Mesoamerican statue converted into a water feature.

 

Early the next day we took a boat trip on the nearby Rio Frio some 10 km away from the Nicaraguan border (although the area was anything but frio once the sun got up). There were two main targets, Grey-headed Dove which we saw in the half-light before boarding ….

 

…. and the diminutive Nicaraguan Grackle which just crosses the border into northernmost Costa Rica. The male is far smaller than Great-tailed and lacks the purple gloss ….

 

…. whilst the female, as well as being smaller than female Great-tailed, has a paler belly and more prominent supercilium.

 

Waterbirds that I haven’t featured before on the blog included  Anhinga ….

 

…. Neotropical Cormorant,

 

…. and Pale-vented Pigeon (for such a colourful pigeon couldn’t they find a better name than ‘pale-vented’?)

 

But some birds I couldn’t resist posting for a second time, such as this male Ringed Kingfisher ….

 

…. or the wonderfully bizarre Boat-billed Heron.

 

One of the highlights was getting great views of both sexes of Sungrebe, the Neotropical representative of the Heliorthinidae. a very ancient family that are not related to cormorants or other similar waterbirds. The female (above) is more brightly coloured than the male, although unlike the plumage and role reversed phalaropes and buttonquails where the male incubates and cares for the young, both sexes share parental duties.

 

That said the duller male has something unique in birds, a flap of skin under each wing. If danger presents the two chicks can clamber into the flaps and the male can fly with them on board to safety. Sungrebes and the two Old World finfoots do not generally dive for food, rather pick insects off overhanging vegetation.

 

Surprisingly a boat trip can provide a good vantage from which to to tape out elusive birds such as this Spot-breasted Wren.

 

This bird took me completely by surprise. I have seen Grey-necked Wood Rail on several trips but had forgotten that the populations from southern Mexico to extreme northern Costa Rica had been split as Rufous-naped Wood Rail (not to be confused with Rufous-necked Wood Rail that we dipped earlier in the trip).

 

The river bank was full of Spectacled Caimans ….

 

Some were a bit apprehensive when we got out of the boat at this marsh where the caimans were abundant. However it was good to remember the old adage ‘if it runs away from you its a caiman, if it devourers you it’s a crocodile’. These ran away.

 

If searching for birds is called birding and searching for owls is known as owling then this must be craking. We formed a line and stomped through the marsh hoping to flush a crake or two.

 

We flushed a single Grey-breasted Crake and two or three Yellow-breasted Crakes. By leaving the camera on a wide-angle setting and pressing the shutter the moment a crake flew (without even moving the camera up to my eye) I was able to get this shot of a Yellow-breasted Crake.

 

Widespread from Canada to northern Costa Rica, Red-winged Blackbirds were abundant in the marshy areas.

 

They looked particularly attractive when they raise their red and yellow epaulettes in display.

 

On my return to the UK I heard that a female Red-winged Blackbird had been found on North Ronaldsay in Orkney. A first for Britain (if you discount some deliberate releases in the 19th C) it attracted a lot of twitchers. Although I like to add to my British list I’m not in that league. That said if it was a world lifer and I couldn’t easily see it on a planned future foreign trip I’d have be enquiring about charter flights!

 

On the edge of the marsh was a lake with the usual run of stilts, egrets etc but a group of Blue-winged Teal (just visible in the centre) and American Wigeon (which are not) made the visit worthwhile.

 

In the wet grassland were a few Collared Plovers, a resident wader species ….

 

…. and the highly migratory Pectoral Sandpiper. Recent research has shown that when Pecs have completed the arduous journey from Patagonia to the Canadian/Alaskan tundra, the males then fan out, some visiting the entire breeding range from the tundra of the northern Ural Mountains to Canada’s Baffin Island in a single season. Here they display at a series of leks attempting to mate with as many females as possible over their entire 4000km breeding range before flying back to Patagonia to winter. Aren’t birds just marvellous!

 

It was back to the hotel and it’s weird statue for breakfast, then on again to some areas of marshes and irrigated fields.

 

Here we found that aberrant wader, Wattled Jacana in some abundance. The bird at the rear is a juvenile. Interestingly the Lesser Jacana of Africa looks just like a small version of juvenile African Jacana and is a rare example (in birds at least) of neotony, speciation by remaining in juvenile plumage until of breeding age.

 

Green Kingfishers were particularly photogenic in the irrigation ditches surrounding the fields.

 

Thee same ditches gave us wonderful views of White-throated Crake ….

 

…. our third crake of the day (fifth if you include rails and galinules) although as often happens the bird hasn’t been named after its most obvious field characteristic.

 

I have posted a number of photos of adult Bare-throated Tiger-heron before but here is a tiger-striped juvenile ….

 

…. but this heron, Pinnated Bittern was a real surprise. I have been searching for this bird since the 80’s and have drawn a blank across its huge Neotropical range. It was one of five write-ins on the trip, ie species that have never been recorded in Birdquest’s 30 years of running trips to Costa Rica. Three of these are species that have been added due to taxonomic revision (that is recorded before but not when they were considered full species) another was Wilson’s Phalarope, which was just a scarce migrant and the fifth was this bird – which just goes to show how thinly spread they are over their enormous range. Maybe not quite the bird of the trip but one of the contenders certainly.

 

Another Nicaraguan bird that just creeps over the border into Costa Rica is Nicaraguan Seedfinch. After some searching we found this huge-billed gem in a fallow field.

 

Seedfinches don’t usually feature very high on birders want-lists but with a bill like that this qualifies as a ‘mega’.

 

Our final destination on this action packed day was a visit to a private reserve at La Fortuna. Grey-head Chachalacas were common and tame but we failed to score with the elusive Uniform Crake, (although we did hear it and it was probably glimpsed). Shame as a four crake day would have been something special.

 

Ominous clouds were gathering as we left and headed for the nearby Arenal Observatory Lodge.

 

At Arenal Observatory Lodge some of us went out owling after dinner and saw the magnificent Black-and-White Owl. I didn’t take any photos through. The point of telling you this is that this means I saw eight life birds today, unprecedented in my recent birding history – what a day!

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: