17 March 2015

Fire in the Valley...COSTA RICA (24-25 Feb.)

Costa Rica is a country where it feels like it is bursting at the seams with birding sites. Thus, on this short visit I squeezed in some new ones to me, and expanded my arsenal of Costa Rican birding experience in the process! I had found out about a hotel near the airport, and wished to check it out for future tours there-Hotel Robledal (Hotel Robledal) . This could not have gone better; I knew there were some birds to be seen on the grounds, but that was about it. I arrived in the country with Pablo Cervantes Daza, and over my first dinner there discovered they even had a bird guide on their reception (Emmanuel Guzman). So we hired his fantastic services for several hours at the start of our tour. 
Generally speaking, we have not traditionally done a whole lot of birding in the Central Valley (where the airport, and this nearby hotel are located) on the tours I have been part of, as we either have not had time, or are covering some of the birds in other areas later on the tour (if, for example, visiting the dry North Pacific, many of the birds can be found there), However, on this tour we found ourselves with some hours to spare, and, as we were not visiting the North Pacific, knew that this may provide an ample boost to our bird list. We were not wrong; we enjoyed a splendid time birding in and around our hotel. The start finds within the confines of these small hotel grounds were no less than 2 species of owl;  1 by day (Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl), 1 by night (Tropical Screech-Owl). 

Amazingly, during our first few hours there, in a single afternoon/evening, we had a total of THREE owl species; these two on the grounds, and a fluffy young Striped Owl on a finca (or farm) nearby. Also on that first afternoon, around the same finca, were a showy Striped Cuckoo, a few Stripe-headed Sparrows, a single "striped-up" female Green-breasted Mango, a few spritely Gray-crowned Yellowthroats, and even a covey of Crested Bobwhite (which flushed before I could really count them on my lifelist), among the more common fare like Great Kiskadees and wintering boreal birds like Baltimore Orioles and Tennessee Warblers.
It was a stunning opener, but if anything, the next morning's hour and half in and near the hotel was better yet; it opened with a jaffa-orange Spot-breasted Oriole singing in the hotel garden; we then moved on to a lake with Northern Jacanas and Purple Gallinules plowed the edges, while in the woodland alongside we found a male Gartered Trogon, Masked Tityra, Plain-capped Starthroat, and Steely-vented Hummingbird. We moved a little away from the wetland into the dry wooded hills, and things really went crazy, with bird activity at fever pitch. A flurry of activity included lots of birds in and around the same trees, perhaps goaded by a calling Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl (our second in 24 hours) in the area: male Rose-throated Becard appeared with its crest raised; Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet did the same, two species of vireo then appeared (Yellow-throated and Philadelphia); then a male Streak-backed Oriole popped up too to complete a fine brace of orioles for the morning; then a Blue Grosbeak appeared, hot on the heels of a Summer Tanager, before a troop of toucans made us drop everything, and literally, run full pelt towards them. 
There in an open tree above us a group of 7 Fiery-billed Aracaris plundered the fruit crop, while other birds continued to swirl all around. Before we had to head back the hotel for breakfast we notched up more Stripe-headed Sparrows and a pair of roadside Blue-crowned Motmots....

The day was only a few hours old and we had racked up quite the list; before the end of the day we were to climb into the foothills of the Caribbean slope, to visit Braulio Carrillo National Park and El Tapir hummingbird gardens, and then move further down into the steamy lowland jungle of La Selva...This packed in not only numerous sites, but numerous birds into our day...

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