Saturday, February 22, 2014

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. 

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