08 November 2017

Costa Rica Bird Challenge: Day 7, (18 Oct 2017)

Shanks and Saltpans….
For the penultimate day of the inaugural Costa Rica Bird Challenge, we were still trailing in third place; just. The first place seemed won on day one, they were in the dust way ahead of us, the Tucan Ticos, and the Redstart Wranglers, with whom we had been playing a game of cat-and-mouse all week long. The race was on, for second place! This day had potential, like so many of the others, but in a different way. We knew we were basically spending a day in the dry Pacific Northwest, so very different from the sweat-inducing humidity we had experienced in Carara, and subsequently some new birds on the horizon. But, on this day the playing field could be opened up significantly, by careful scanning of waterbird areas, where list loading can pay real dividends in a race like this. Every team knew this, and all had plans shrouded in secrecy. Initially, we merely had to meet at La Ensenada for a mangrove boat trip in pursuit of Mangrove Hummingbird, one of the handful of endemics bound by political boundaries (i.e. only found in Costa Rica!) 
Beforehand though, the itinerary was flexible. We headed for some dry country species along the Guacimo Road, which started out very promisingly, with a stream of new species of this habitat, like our first Rufous-naped Wrens, Stripe-headed Sparrow, Rose-throated Becard, White-lored Gnatcatcher, Cinnamon Hummingbird, Streak-backed Oriole, and a batch of Black-headed Trogons (our sixth trogon species, with another still to play for later), as well as another stunning Turquoise-browed Motmot
Shortly after setting off in earnest, we also stopped short to make time for our only White-throated Magpie-Jays of the challenge, a stunning and striking species typical of the dry northwest of Costa Rica, where it is positively abundant in the right habitat. We also stopped to admire some White-fronted Parrots framed with a deep blue cerulean sky...
On arrival at La Ensenada Lodge, we had some wiggle room before the boat trip to explore the lodge grounds. First off, a Pacific Screech-Owl was sitting above the bus on arrival, which you would think we’d greet with glee. Not so, it was a species we knew we had over the other teams, and this small advantage had just been wiped away! We set off into the nearby scrub and quickly found our hoped-for target, the local Banded Wren, and also added a calling Spot-breasted Oriole and a hulking Great Black Hawk too, before our boat trip through the mangroves. Sadly, no Mangrove Hummingbirds were evident, and so we docked back and had a wonderful lunch at La Ensenada Lodge
Post-lunch, we had brief walk around the lodge cabins, and Nik (inevitably) found some bright green Orange-fronted Parakeets sitting within a set of bright green leaves, making them hard to pick out for mere mortals. A Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl tooted nearby, and was also seen. The afternoon was flexible and a potential gamechanger for the teams and the race. We all split off and went our different ways in pursuit of waterbirds. We knew that the nearby Salinas should be good at this hour, with high tide peaking at the time, and it was in terms of numbers, but the variety disappointed us. In spite of thousands of waterbirds, only one non-breeding Red Knot was new for us among the throng of Western Sandpipers, Semipalmated, Wilson’s, Black-bellied, and Collared Plovers, Sanderling, and Short-billed Dowitchers. Of course, on any other day, this would have been a place to spend hours combing the shorebirds and taking in this awesome sight, which it was, but with new species the objective, we needed to scan and move on. We hoped the mangroves would work out better, as I have seen Mangrove Cuckoo, Mangrove Hummingbird, and Northern Scrub Flycatcher in this set of them before. However, we drew a blank there. Our one respite from a shameful lack of additions, was a low flying Hook-billed Kite that glided across the pans, and was a stellar addition to the list. Finally, with feelings of opportunities lost, we had to start our drive into a very different area indeed, the cloudforests of Monteverde. On arrival at our hotel, the sprawling Hotel El Establo, we quickly added layers of clothing as the chill of the mountains hit us sharply, and tried at dusk for Bare-shanked Screech-Owl on the grounds, with one being heard, and a Mottled Owl also called from the same area. After dinner with the other teams, where it was revealed we were still rooted in third spot, the two other teams went off in search of the screech-owl. I joined up with the leading team and champions in waiting, the Tico Tickers, and went off in search of the owl. On reaching the site though, we found that the Redstart Wranglers had usurped us, and had not only got there earlier, but had seen the owl well and were already leaving! The pressure was on. Luckily, a quick burst of playback later, and the same owl returned our call, and quickly flew onto a mossy branch above us, where it challenged us all to take photos. We all duly obliged.

One more morning of the challenge remained to try and rise one place in the standings...a tense night lie ahead, with missing species swirling around in my head!

1 comment:

Mary Ann Good (Mom/Grandma) said...

I'm coming lately to your blog posts and really enjoying them, as Costa Rica is my adopted birding home. You didn't get down to my favorite area (or tied for first with the highlands)--the Golfo Dulce area! Anyway, looking forward to reading about the final day of the challenge! I don't see it here yet...