23 October 2017

Costa Rica Bird Challenge: Day 2, (13 Oct 2017)

Snow White Joins the Party…
On this day of the “challenge”, or bird race, the day was spent in the Caribbean lowlands and foothills. That is not to say that we hung about much; we had a frantic schedule, and packed in as much as we could in the small space of daylight available (i.e. all 2 hours of it!) We started out by leaving Selva Verde Lodge under cover of darkness, in order to reach one of the most iconic sites in all of Costa Rican birding, (and indeed in all of Central America): OTS La Selva Biological Station, a huge stretch of lowland forest, which excels in providing nothing but excellent birding; (supported very strongly with other wildlife of note too). You never, hear anyone say “it was a bit slow” today at La Selva, this simply does not happen. Rufous-winged Woodpecker fell early on, as if to prove the point, one of the regional endemics of the area. We also got in a few other goodies before breakfast, like a low flying Green Ibis, and even a pair of gargantuan Great Green Macaws overflew us with their deep croaky voices bringing them to our attention. Breakfast was a blur, as we could literally hear the forest calling us from the restaurant, a cacophony of bird noises to tempt our avian-dominated taste buds. We soon met with our local guide, Joel, an expert guide in the true sense, with whom I have toured La Selva with a number of times before; I was stoked to have him again. Birds came thick and fast in our limited time there – we had from dawn to 9am and no more; exhilarating but also tantalizing; normal tours stay at least 2 nights at this research facility, and uber birding hotspot. We sighted, by pure chance 3 Pied Puffbirds sitting idly in an open treetop, got multiple encounters with some raucous Rufous-tailed Jacamars, enjoyed the tufted Chestnut-colored Woodpecker, along with six species of parrots in barely 3 hours, were greatly surprised at the ease of finding a Royal Flycatcher, (a much more difficult bird in the Caribbean than on the Pacific side of the mountains), got at least a pair of Red-throated Ant-Tanagers, a showy brace of Band-tailed Barbthroats, and a handful of wrens (White-breasted Wood, Black-throated, and Band-backed Wrens). The regular firecracker sound of White-collared Manakins were heard in the forest, and one passed by the restaurant too. The high-pitched far-carrying whistles of a Semiplumbeous Hawk were counted on the checklist well before we saw it, but we couldn’t resist going in to see this smart raptor too. As we had gathered from the afternoon before that the pace of raptor migration in Costa Rica was picking up – where some of the largest numbers of birds-of-prey in the Neotropics pass through in the autumn each year -  and this day was no different with Broad-winged Hawks an almost constant sight on the wing in the skies above (an estimated 1500 were seen in those brief hours on site). However, the star bird our brief hours at La Selva, was one of the first that came after breakfast, and was sighted from right beside the restaurant, a spotless, clean white male Snowy Cotinga that exposed itself for a short time in a bare treetop that it shared with a slumbering Green Iguana. We left La Selva with at least 89 species already chalked on our day list…

Our reason for cutting short our time at this iconic site was to visit, of course, another hotspot, the Aerial Tram in the Caribbean foothills of Braulio Carrillo National Park, at an elevation of around 500m. Once there (by mid-morning), we were soon in a dangling gondola admiring towering rainforest trees at eye level. It was a wonderful experience with nature, but sadly lacking in birds for the most part, until the majestic form of a King Vulture glided into view above us. For sure, an earlier visit in the day would have yielded more than at this hot and sunny hour, which often prompts the death knell for bird activity in the tropics. We finished with time to spare before lunch on site, so visited the hummingbird feeders, where Snowcap was a conspicuous absentee, but did bring us views of a red-legged Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer plundering the rich nectar resource of lilac verbena flowers. We tried to put some oomph into our time there with a walk in the rainforest, which again was largely silent. But, then, just before lunchtime we hit a flock, a BIG flock, and out of this we pulled several stunning Black-and-yellow Tanagers, (think Prothonotary Warbler, dressed in the body of a tanager), glowing Emerald Tanagers, and Speckled Tanager too. 
We rushed to lunch, for by then were a little tardy having been transfixed by the male Black-and-yellow Tanager, which is the definition of shocking yellow. Following lunch, we had a long drive into a remote lodge within the Caribbean lowlands (Selva Bananito Lodge), connected to the bi-national La Amistad National Park that spreads all the across the Panama border. The lengthy drive was delayed a little to collect the late arriving Jim Lawrence, who due to some incredibly unfortunate timing in Miami, only narrowly missed the flight to be part of the trip from the start. Jim’s first main contribution was to give us our first House Sparrow of the tour, even though he was already committed to another bird group (who were ahead of us), an act of high treason surely! The journey produced an absurdly confiding Ringed Kingfisher that unleashed our cameras, by virtue of its lack of timidity, and the fact that it was sat there with a rather large catfish clasped in its beak. After the long delay in actually getting to Costa Rica, the enthusiastic photographer Jim was feeling much happier following the first proper action for his lens in the tropics. A burst of new birds came along the coast, near the port of Puerto Viejo, where we found Western and Semipalmated Sandpipers, Wilson’s and Semipalmated Plovers, Brown Booby, and Black Tern. By the time we reached the meeting point for our vehicles to transfer us through several rivers to the lodge it was dark, but somehow, this did not stop an American Pygmy-Kingfisher and Yellow-crowned Night-Heron from being seen by people in the front of the vehicle, in the car headlights as we made one of these crossings!
After dinner, and heavy rains in this, the dry season in the Caribbean, the number of people willing to go owling had whittled itself to just 2 of the team, and our constant local guide German; we were joined by one of the lodge staff, who walked us straight to a site for Great Potoo, where one was soon heard, but was devilishly difficult to see. For a time it was merely a pair oif large red eyes shining bvack at the torch from a distant forest canopy, but finally German tracked it down for cracking, long looks. On the way back we also added Common Pauraque to the list, as it sat in the road ahead of us. We retired very tired, but very happy.

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