29 October 2017

Costa Rica Bird Challenge: Day 6, (17 Oct 2017)

Fiery start to our time in the Pacific…

The annals of birding have oft stated that Carara National Park, located on the Central Pacific, is one of the best of all the birding hotspots in Costa Rica, but why you might ask? While the Caribbean side of the mountains is rather uniform in regards to avifauna north to south, the same cannot be said of the Pacific, where the north is considerably drier than the humid southern belt of that side. Birders tend to center their attentions more on the southern side of this, as it holds more specialties, but why can you not have your cake and eat it too?! Well, Carara allows just that, sitting in the transition zone where both of these important biomes collide, it allows a mixed list of species from both zones by locating yourself at but one lodge, if you so wish. On this challenge/bird race, we covered both in a flash, starting here in Carara for a taste of Central and south Pacific birds, before heading into the north Pacific, if only for a brief spell, at La Ensenada, to give us the best of both avian worlds. We began with a walk around the immediate property of Macaw Lodge, and while macaws did not feature, the clear quality of birding available in our brief walk was proven by species like a male Baird’s Trogon, a handful of Charming Hummingbirds, and Blue-throated Goldentail. However, the drive down from the lodge was when things really heated up, when German spotted an avian ember sitting within a roadside cecropia, the bus was quickly halted, and we were all soon soaking up a fabulous Fiery-billed Aracari, a specialty of the south Pacific, (here at the northern edge of its range).
While both other teams headed in earnest for Carara National Park, which would only seem natural, we tried something different, a gamble of sorts. We knew that the tide favored a coastal stop in the morning, and so we headed to the mouth of the Tarcoles River, while others set off into the forest instead. Here, we were hoping for a flood of waterbirds to pad the list, but also to indulge in some mangrove species, that may be difficult come by during our later planned boat trip for such birds in La Ensenada. Some birds are simply easier with feet planted firmly on the ground. But here, is where one of my slips will haunt me until the end of days…German was busy with the ‘scope searching through the wetland species for the correct wetland species, i.e. ones that would plug gaping gaps on our birds list. He soon homed in on just such a species, Roseate Spoonbill, and things were looking rosy indeed. But then I made a gaff. Even though I was closest to German, and therefore could have locked that bird on the list swiftly (for someone other than our local guide was required to see/hear the bird for it to be valid), I chose to continue focusing on the trickier mangrove birds, leaving the spoonbill for Tim, Niklas and Beltran to count. They were, after all, only a few steps behind. However, that was soon found to be a few steps too many, as the normally lacsidazical Roseate Spoonbill took flight, and never appeared on the bird race again, and so never made it on to our, or any other bird list. And following the final, tiny margin of loss, this was to be a grave mistake indeed. Such things make or break a bird race of this nature, and you could say I learnt something invaluable that day! Our mangrove time did eventually pay off with both Panama Flycatcher and Mangrove Vireo, the latter of which took its merry time to reveal its presence in the area. We then shot off to a little-known area in Orotina, where a certain guide called Alve is getting a growing reputation for being able to deliver some of the trickier species of the area in record time. We were visiting to hope to catch up on a daytime Spectacled Owl, which both other teams had hanging over us like the Sword of Damocles, as well as other avian stuff like Lesser Ground-Cuckoo, Pacific Screech-Owl, Barn Owl, and more.
We started off with the ground-cuckoo, but we knew with limited time this could be the make or break bird for our time on site, where this was likely to drain time when least needed. After a nervy time, when the bird remained all but mute, it suddenly flapped lazily into a thicket, then creeped out into the open, where it froze for a period! The next search was not quite what we had hoped; in spite of the Spectacled Owl having been present the previous afternoon, it could not be found anywhere (although Long-tailed Manakin was found in its place), and we had to reluctantly accept defeat on another day roost owl search for the day (we had also tried for and failed to find Black-and-white Owl in its traditional haunts around Tarcoles, but were at least compensated for this with first another skillfully piece of spotting by Niklas of a Crane Hawk, and a Ferruginous Owl too). 
Next up, we went off in search of yet another owl, and this one proved simple, a pair of Pacific Screech-Owls were seen perched nonchalantly above a busy roadside. From one owl to the next, we ventured on to the location of an old rusty barn, the likes of which are vital roosting and nesting sites for the next bird to join our list, the humble Barn Owl. This was followed a short time later with a triple pack of Double-striped Thick-Knees.
After meeting for lunch with the other teams, it was hard to get the lie of the land, due to a little caginess, but it felt like the morning in Carara had not been an eventful one, and so we were still gambling on our afternoon time in the forest. Good natured Jonathan Meyrav, in the clearly leading team by this point, was helpful enough to tip us off on a fruitful trail to try though (although it turned out this was the same trail that our guide was already aiming for). After fueling up on rice, beans, and Lizano sauce, we were again ready for the field, and Jonathan’s trail tip soon looked like a winner, when German spotted a male Spot-crowned Euphonia at the trailhead, and moments after we whistled in a fantastic Streak-chested Antpitta that gave looks I would really appreciate on my next tour of the area please! Forest trail work is always a little tough, especially within primary forest that was largely what we were in that afternoon, but slowly but surely, we plucked new species out of the air, including Rufous Piha, Rufous-breasted Wren, Red-capped Manakin, Barred Antshrike, Green Shrike-Vireo, and our first look at a Bicolored Antbird. However, Carara will perhaps best be remembered among the group for something that slithered across the paved path towards the end of our walk; boldly patterned with exes along its side, there was no mistaking the region’s deadliest snake: Central American Fer-de-Lance
The latter part of the afternoon was spent scanning from the road up to Cerro Lodge, where we quickly found some of the hoped-for Stripe-headed Sparrows, got several Scarlet Macaws as they flew lethargically to roost, and also picked up a handful of Yellow-naped Parrots too from our vantage point. One more look around Tarcoles again failed to find/hear Black-and-white Owl, and so we had to accept a handful of Lesser Nighthawks as a substitute, before impending darkness drew us back to Macaw Lodge for a final night’s stay…

The next day, the legendary Monteverde area awaited our arrival…

No comments: