22 October 2017

Costa Rica Bird Challenge: Day 1, part I (12 Oct 2017)

Raptors and Hummingbirds Shine in an Explosive Opening…
Following a brief 5am tea (no coffee for this traditional Englishman) and cookie, we hit the road from downtown San Jose (from the Hotel Aurola Holiday Inn) and headed up into the mountains on the edge of Poas Volcano. Once in the shadow of the volcano, we got straight into some montane species right off the bat, with a fleeting stop at Freddo Fresas, Poasito. The hummingbirds were the main attraction here, with a male Volcano Hummingbird appearing right on cue, competing for our attention with Lesser Violetears (formerly known as Green, before this was spliced into two species recently), Purple-throated Mountain-Gems, and Green-crowned Brilliant. A glowing male Flame-colored Tanager also lent some colour to proceedings. Another short search of some cloudforest led us to a perfectly positioned Hoffman's Two-toed Sloth
Another stop beside a stunning, thundering waterfall near the volcano brought us a rush of new species, with some stellar ones among them, such as local specialties like Golden-bellied Flycatcher and Sooty-faced Finch proving remarkably easy at this scenic spot. Better was yet to come though, as, after scoring a very tame Torrent Tyrannulet, an Ornate Hawk-Eagle circled above us in the blue skies overhead. An unexpected, and striking pre-breakfast bird, which made us forget our hunger for just a little while, before this majestic eagle drifted effortlessly out of view.
The next stop was also hummingbird related, but food-related too, as we tucked into a hearty breakfast of traditional Gallo Pinto, while surrounded by birds-mainly hummingbirds at the feeders that included the Coppery-headed Emerald, a country endemic (of which there are only six), and a regional endemic following a visit from one of the local White-bellied Mountain-Gems, a bird that made its lone appearance on this bird race during this breakfast at Cinchona, a bit of a legend amongst birders, and especially bird photographers. It was impossible not to also appreciate the conspicuous beauty of the visiting male Violet Sabrewings, a bold and delightfully common montane hummingbird species in Costa Rica. Silver-throated Tanagers also appeared at the fruit feeders, as did Costa Rica’s shamefully dowdy national bird, Clay-colored Thrush, an appalling choice (considering all the colour on offer among the avian community), in this megadiverse tropical country for this prestigious title.
Following an opening that largely centered around hummingbirds and feeders, we switched to some “real” birding with a visit to Virgen del Socorro, where its most emblematic species, the White Hawk appeared early and calmed nerves quickly. The deserted dirt road allowed us to walk both down and up the valley, steadily adding to our bird list for the day, which included species like Bay-headed Tanager, a couple of Scale-crested Pygmy-Tyrants, a dinky Black-headed Tody-Flycatcher, (akin to a dink frog with its incessant calling nature), a smashing Crimson-collared Tanager, and a steady stream of migratory American warblers (Black-and-white, Tennessee, Blackburnian, Yellow, Canada, Wilson’s, and Chestnut-sided Warblers), showing that they had made it safely through a particularly challenging storm and hurricane season this year, to reach their normal wintering/migratory stopovers in country. 
While not the rarest bird there, a very confiding Lineated Woodpecker found by team member Tim Appleton was my favourite bird of the site, and the photos probably show why…Remarkably, we had only reached the end of the morning at this point! A busy bird afternoon followed our arrival at our next staging point: Selva Verde Lodge. 
NOTE: This challenge was helped and supported by the tourism board of Costa Rica, and Futuropa, among many other contributors, and so I am including the hashtags here to help connect with these organisations:

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