Monday, February 24, 2014

Scarlet Macaws

No secret about the subject of this blog entry.  About an hour after lunch on Sunday, and after driving along with open views of the Pacific Ocean, we arrived at a gravel pull-off with the Pacific Ocean spread out before us.  Litter cluttered the area.  There was a couple being discreetly intimate outside of their parked car that sort of reminded me of a good, old-fashioned lovers lane.

Vernon said only, "Okay, have fun.  Don't forget your cameras." Okay ... ?  It took no longer than one or two minutes to find our fun. We spent about an hour with perhaps a dozen birds eating from  oceanside almond trees. 

Scarlet Macaws (Ara macao) are very sociable.  There is never just one.

We were able to watch about a dozen restless birds eating in the almond trees.

The birds are so long - 35 inches from head to tail - and they were so close that it was difficult to get a full-length shot of the bird.

Take off. 

A Red-legged Honeycreeper briefly distracted me.

This bird was so close and cooperative.  It was great fun to get these photographs.

Looking for almond fruit.


A flock of Brown Pelicans (Pelecanus occidentalis) flew over.  Flying just over the water and dipping its wings,  the pelican below brought up the rear.

My best shot of Scarlet Macaws flying overhead.

You can imagine the topic of discussion when we finally got back in the van for the rest of our drive to Punta Leona.

To be continued ... getting down to the last two days.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

La Gamba Road

By my prior blog entries it's easy to tell how much I loved this area. Leaving was difficult.  Perhaps this statement has no real meaning because I also loved "the highlands" which was completely different. Yes, the rainforest woods were like nothing I've ever seen before.  But, in the afternoons and on our departing morning we birded along La Gamba road which was fields, small woodlots and small homesteads. La Gamba road was also where we saw our three owls on the second night.  I learned from Matt that La Gamba is quite a famous spot for birding in Costa Rica and found another blog, Manuel Antonio Birding by Johan Chaves, which shows more scenery photos than I am offering, a few different birds and overall better photos.  I recommend checking it out.

This is my fewest photos blog entry.  But the photos from this morning are important and need to be included. 

Smooth-billed Anis (Crotophaga ani)

The bird above and below was thrilling for me to see.  Though Pearl Kite (Gampsonyx swainsonii) can be expected in this location, Vernon was excited when he called it out.  I have little experience with kites, including those that stray to the midwest and mid-Atlantic regions of the United States.  The only other kites I have ever seen are Swallow-tailed Kite (Elanoides forficatus) (which we also saw on this trip) and Snail Kite (Rostrhamus sociabilis), both during a 2009 trip to Florida. So to see this small, completely attractive and charmingly perched kite was special for me.   

Silly to include a photo such as the one above (no amount of editing could rescue it), but I do so for my memory of seeing a Fork-tailed Flycatcher (Tyrannus savana) on this trip.  It is one of the birds I had really wanted to see, and we saw a couple well through the spotting scope, but they were always too distant for a decent photo.  The blog I reference above, Manuel Antonio Birding ... , has a couple of good Fork-tailed Flycatcher photos that made me completely envious.

After seeing the Pearl Kite, we lingered in this area a bit longer because vultures, mostly Black, were swirling overhead and Lathe and Matt hoped to find another kind of raptor mixed in with them.  I don't remember if we saw a hawk, but the lingering was worth it because a couple of King Vultures (Sarcoramphus papa) soared into view and low enough for a try at some acceptable photos.

Lineated Woodpecker (Dryocopus lineatus) is a spectacular bird that I have also seen in Peru and Colombia.  I edited this photo for exposure, shadows and clarity with the rudimentary, but better than nothing, iPhoto editing tool.

Great Crested Flycatcher (Myiarchus crinitus) is just one of our common, breeding neotropical migrants that we saw frequently on this trip.  It often vocalized with its typical and unmistakable "wheep" call. It's an odd, but pleasurable, experience to hear such a familiar call in such a far away place.  The afternoon before we all had the experience of hearing "RITZbew" and we wondered why Vernon was playing the call of the Willow Flycatcher.  He was not playing the call of a Willow Flycatcher.  An actual Willow Flycatcher (Empidonax traillii) was perched and calling in exactly the same kind of habitat as we would see it in June.  

Crossing our famous bridge on foot.

To be continued ... a hour spent with a very fun bird!

Leaving Esquinas with a special bird

Each day began at 6:00 am for birding, followed by breakfast, then more birding.  Coming from a northern winter place where it's still pitch dark at 6:00 am, walking out into daylight at that early hour was a sweet reminder that I was on vacation. 

Yet another Esquinas trail sign pointing out rainforest trails.

On our fifth morning, and last at Esquinas, a White-throated Shrike-Tanager (Lanio leucothorax) perched beautifully for these photos.  This bird has a job.  It is the leader, or lookout bird, for feeding flocks.  

It was already sunny and hot and we were about to end our morning walk.  A new group had arrived at the lodge the evening before and were out for their first birding in the area.  Their field guide knew Vernon and they spoke for a few minutes before we continued on to breakfast.

Suddenly we heard an excited, urgent, raspy whisper, "Agami Heron, Agami Heron" being called to us by the other field guide.  We saw and photographed the bird, while learning the significance of this find. Agami Heron (Agamia agami) is an extremely difficult bird to see in the best of circumstances.  What made this sighting more interesting is that the bird is not really found on the Pacific side of the country. Garrigues's and Dean's field guide describes the bird this way:  "Very uncommon in Caribbean lowlands and extremely rare in Golfo Dulce/Ossa Peninsula.  Quietly stalks in shallow streams or swamps within mature forest."  (p. 20).  The bird was in the right habitat, but we weren't in any of those places.

We watched this bird hunting, moving slowly amongst fallen branches, along the water's edge.

In the photo above, the Agami Heron is stretching its neck for a stab at a meal.  Check out the long, narrow bill of this bird.  Just as the bird caught its meal, the Caiman lunged at the heron.  The heron escaped with its catch and calmly walked to higher ground and behind some foliage.  Matt was able to photograph this sequence of events with his fast shutter speed. 

The Caiman strike did not scare off the Agami Heron.  It was back for more hunting in a few short minutes.  What a thrill.

The other group's field guide had stopped to search the pond for a Gray-necked Wood-Rail (Aramides cajaneus), a bird we had already seen and photographed, when he spotted the Agami Heron.

After failing to grab the Agami Heron, the Caiman swam straight toward us.  About two-thirds of the way across the pond, it stopped its advance and just starred.  

This boot rack is clever storage for workers' boots used for walking on the muddy trails. Though it did rain each night of our visit to Esquinas, we were not visiting during the rainy season.  We did encounter some muddy areas, but nothing that wasn't manageable with our ordinary hiking shoes.  I could see how the red dirt, as below, would become much muddier and messier in the rainy season.

Bird of Paradise

The photo above is a random shot of a spot that I think has the typical appearance of a rainforest.

A very comfortable Toyota Coaster was our ride for the trip.  That's William, our very skillful driver.  Our trip took us along some rough, narrow and tricky roads.

About fifteen years earlier Vernon had done some training at the Esquinas Rainforest Lodge for his degree.  His current job as a field guide allowed him to return from time-to-time and he was well-acquainted with the lodge manager and some of the staff.  The manager, in red, and other staff bid us goodbye as we pulled away.

To be continued ... with some stops along the way, to the Pacific coast. 

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Esquinas Rainforest Lodge and environs, day #4 continued

As I wrote in my prior blog entry - such a great long day, so many birds, so many photos.  I am trying to remember back to this day - of all, I think it was really the tops - read all the way to the end for the day's end finale.

Poor photo of Roadside Hawk (Buteo magnirostris).

One of our escapes for a few good birds.

Dot-winged Antwren (Microrhopias quixensis)

Black-hooded Antshrike (Thamnophilus bridgesi), endemic to CR and western Panama

Pug-nosed Anole (Norops capito).

Breakfast on our second morning - again very good.  The thing is - whoever was doing the cooking at Esquinas was a very good cook! Each evening meal started with a soup that was amazing each time.

There is a story about the ecological disaster of pineapple growing in Costa Rica.  I came across the pineapple plant above growing on the grounds of the lodge - perhaps secondary to a stray seed or plant.  On our way to Esquinas we passed some pineapple growing fields and Vernon discussed with us the terrible ecological consequences of introduced pineapple growing on a massive scale - 600,000 hectacres in such a small country.  How does a country like Costa Rica fight Dole and Delmonte?  Vernon explained how pineapple is being grown, impossible to go into any length here, but it's bad.  Basically its grown in a complete monoculture environment, of use to nothing else, with lots and lots of fertilizers flowing into nearby rivers and streams, etc.  I love fresh pineapple and this really caused me to think twice.    

This bird calmly wandered through the grounds of the Esquinas Lodge, completely unperturbed as stunned birders chased it for photos. Female Great Curassow (Crax rubra).  Truly spectacular.  The male bird, which we did not see, is black.  

Slaty-tailed Trogan (Trogan massena) pair.  It was very hot and the male, with mouth open, was trying to dissipate the heat.

Yellow Tyrannulet (Capsiempis flaveola).

Crimson-fronted Parakeet (Aratinga finschi).

Handsome horse!

I love the dramatic colors of sky and land.  Costa Rica is a beautiful country.  

Red-breasted Blackbird (Sturnella militaris).  I saw only two of these birds, both as above, perched far out in the field.  I found the bright red breast of this bird completely intriguing and beautiful.  

Crested Caracara (Caracara cheriway)

Ruddy-breasted Seedeater (Sporophila minuta), a bird that is often difficult to see.

Hoffmann's Woodpecker (Melanerpes hoffmanni), flew in and perched next to the Ruddy-breasted Seedeater on same utility wire.  

Above is a makeshift wooden bridge that our loaded van had to drive over - a few times.

We returned from daytime birding for dinner and it began to rain heavily.  There is something about eating dinner in an open rainforest dining room while it rains outside that makes the whole experience richer.  We planned to go owling this night - but, there would be no owling in the rain.  Suddenly, the rain switched off.  Just as we were thinking that owling would be out of the question, we loaded up in the van.

Another three owl night was upon us.  First, the bright eye shine of a perched Common Potoo (Nyctibius griseus) was picked up in a field. We got decent looks through the spotting scope. Second, Tropical Screech Owl (Megascops choliba) was perched and hunting from on a diagonal wire in a small field right next to the road.  Third, a Striped Owl (Pseudoscops clamator) was perched on a utility wire directly over the center of the road.  Finally, and this was pretty neat, Lathe actually saw a large bird fly in to perch on a roadside utility wire - amazingly, it was a spectacular Black and While Owl (Ciccaba nigrolineata).  We got excellent long looks at all of these birds.  The Striped and the Black and White owls, in particular, were amazing in their appearance.  With the exception of the potoo, not a single vocalization was played to find the owls.  They were just there, perched and cooperative.  A search for the Spectacled Owl back near the lodge was unsuccessful. 

To be continued ... a very special bird on our final morning at Esquinas Rainforest Lodge!