Thursday, July 17, 2014

Costa Rica June 2014 (Part 5 the Finale)

Well, we were coming to the end of our trip and usually by about this time in previous trips we are ready to go home, but not this time, i think we both wanted it to continue, my wife even commented that she would like to live there when we get older, i think we would need to have a better grasp of spanish than we presently do though  :lol:

Anyways, the longest commute of our trip was this next one, Laguna Del Legarto to Paraiso Quetzal Lodge, it started on board a rickety old bus, the same one that had brought 20 students and their teachers over the night before, good timing since we had had the lodge pretty much to ourselves the whole 3 nights. The bus was perfect for plowing down the rocky road back to paved earth, this guy didn't take it slow, which was fine with me.
We transferred buses in San Jose but kept the same driver, the new Mercedes commuter van was pretty plush compared to old rickety.

Soon we were on our way up Cerro De La Muerte to Paraiso, our mountain lodge for the next 2 nights.

We arrived at around 2pm and checked in, they offered us a free cocktail while checking in too, i said i'd rather have a cerveza but they said, well no, cocktail only.
it was starting to rain and the wind was picking up (and i could feel the cocktail kicking in at the altitude we were at) but i could see the hummingbird feeders were full of hummers, and nobody else around. So i introduced myself the the throng of hummingbirds and shot away under the small roof of the covered observation spot while the rain and wind picked up pace.

Magnificent Hummingbird

Having seen the Magnificent already in Arizona it wasn't new, but the looks were immensely better this time.

Green Violet-ear

Volcano Hummingbird
a very small hummingbird, i gotta say.



Fiery-throated Hummingbird

The fiery throat was actually kind of hard to capture, it was quick, like Pow! and then gone.

Only 4 species this time of year, which was a bit of a disappointment considering i hadn't done much hummer shooting yet. Still, the 4 species present were all amazing.
Paraiso has "no flash" signs up in the hummingbird viewing area and i asked Jorge jr. (our guide the next morning) about it, he said it wasn't really a problem this time of year because there are less people shooting but when there are like 20 people all using flash at the same time it becomes a bit of a gong show, yeh, i could understand that, he went on to say however that for getting those sweet flight shots we always see, a multi flash setup was the best, so sounds like some flexibility on the matter.

Ok, it was starting to get cold, the wind and rain had us running for our fleeces and rain jackets pretty soon. Our cabin was no sanctuary from the cold either, the bathroom window had been open cooling the small room considerably, a fact we didn't realize until later.
The small electric heater didn't do much but at least there was a ton of blankets on the bed, a noticeable change from the thin cotton sheets we were using at previous lodges.

I studied Liron's Cost Rica trip a lot and checked out his trip video on youtube before our trip so knew what to expect up here. The air was thinner indeed and just walking up and down the steep path from dining area to cabin caught me off guard the first time. We got used to it pretty soon though.

After dinner it was dark and pouring rain and windy, downright cold, at least there was a hot shower waiting in our cabin, or so i hoped. The showers in the other lodges were always lukewarm at best, which was fine in the heat and humidity but i sure hoped the water was at least warm up here, tonight especially...
No! it ran cold, we could see some exposed electrical cable above the shower head so knew that it should heat something up but it just wouldn't happen for us, so cold showers on a cold night, in a cold cabin  :)

The next morning we were to meet Jorge jr. (pronounced with the J like Jerry, unlike my friend Jorge, who pronounced the J like H like Harry) at 6am to first drink a coffee, and then go look for quetzals  :)

My friend Alex Vargas had said i should get Jorge to take us out as he knew where to find the birds. This time of year, as Liron knows, they can be hard to find, however Jorge said the 2 birders that were checking out when we arrived had seen both male and female yesterday in a fairly reliable location. Cool.

We arrived at the location, a farmers field on a steep hill, strawberries were the main crop and they looked delicious.
We saw a Black-throated trogon to begin the walk but i didn't post it since it was obscured in the trees.
A bit later however, Jorge got excited about this mountain species and i was able to get a few shots off at it came briefly into view.

Black-thighed Grosbeak

We headed down a steep path and eventually onto a hilly spot next to a covered strawberry patch, i had to adjust the tripod legs quite a bit to stay somewhat level.
The location was kind of dark though, more importantly, there were no quetzals.
We stayed put for a while while Jorge scouted around the area.
We were joined by a young guide and two english travellers in rubber boots, they were staying at the same lodge but not really birders, i could tell. They spoke in hushed tones at least, respectful of the pursuit at hand.
While i waited i noticed a small bird flitting about on the ground in front of us, i took a couple of shots of what turned out to be the only bird we saw there.

Black-billed Nightingale-thrush

Jorge had a couple of other spots in case this one was a dud and we walked back up the steep hill to get to the vehicle, this one was tough with the 500mm lens i gotta admit  :lol:

We drove down another dirt road on the caribbean side of the mountain while before we were on the pacific side, an interesting divide.

This time we all got lucky as a female quetzal was spotted and i was able to get a few shots off.


Resplendent Quetzal - female.

Of course the female is not as fancy as the male but just to get a shot of the species was a highlight for me, it wasn't over yet.
Well, the guided quetzal walk was over for the british travellers and their guide and it probably would have been for us too but Jorge decided to try a bit more to get us a male, we appreciated the effort a lot.
Paraiso lodge has a thing going with the local farmers that encourages the growing of wild avocado and allows him access onto their fields when guiding a group. he puts a call out to various farmers to watch for birds on their property and to give him a call on his cell when they do and that's what happened with us. We were soon on our way to another location and Jorge said he really hoped to see a male with us, we did too.

As luck would have it we did finally see a male, actually two but they were always some distance from us and it was very hard to get a decent shot or two.

The only full-tail looks of a mature male i got were the last looks of the day before the bird flew off, the lighting was tough and i blew it, had there been more time and maybe a different angle it could have been better but i'll take this one anyways, just to say i've seen it.

It seemed like a long morning but in reality it was only a few short hours we were out, my Costa Rican friends had gotten some amazing shots of quetzals at nest a few months earlier at the same lodge but they also had the luxury of being there at the right time and spending more than a few hours at it, to even see these beautiful birds in the short time we were there was pretty amazing, the proverbial cherry on top.

We went back to the lodge and had lunch and checked out the hummingbird display again.

I took the shot above of my wife as sort of a joke, you see, while packing for the trip i happened to spy a copy of the North Shore News next to suitcase and threw it in, with the intention of doing one of those reader trip shots with newspaper in hand at some touristy location that they like to publish every now and then.
I didn't know this shot was going to be the most popular shot of the trip though.
It even made Explore on Flickr.  :lol:
Ironically, my wife was disappointed that i didn't get the shot when a hummingbird landed on the paper's edge, hey, at least i took a shot.

The hummingbirds were ridiculously "tame" by the way, my wife would put out a finger next to feeder and the tiny birds were more than happy to fly up and perch while sipping, too cool.
i admit, even i tried the finger perch technique and was amazed to have such a small bird so close at hand.
We were told that in 1987 they put the first hummingbird feeder up and had 1 bird come to visit. Since then of course the feathery visitors have grown in number, as have the human visitors to shoot the spectacle. The feeders are all very well setup by the way, attractive perches are everywhere, and they even attach the colourful flowers to certain feeders for those flight shots where it looks like the bird is feeding naturally.

the covered observation area.

In the afternoon Jorge agreed to take us out once again specifically to do some shooting.
He took us to Miriam's, a small restaurant down the road aways from the lodge.
Miriam has been putting out rice for the birds out back for something like 25 years and the perches are quite nice, as are the birds that come in to feed. If you want to shoot there it's polite to buy a lunch or small $ donation, we had lunch with Jorge and the food just kept coming, i needed to shoot though and was soon out back hoping to nail a few of the commoner species i had seen on the ground and around but needed better shots of. This location was pretty sweet, Acorn Woodpecker is a specialty there, as was Flame-colored Tanager.

Rufous-collared Sparrow

Large-footed Finch
This finch really reminded me of our towhees the way it kicked up the ground when foraging.

Yellow-thighed Finch

Sooty-capped Bush-tanager
This bird reminded me of a big chickadee.

Acorn Woodpecker

Flame-colored Tanager

Spotted-crowned Woodcreeper

On the way back to the lodge we drove by this bird, i made Jorge stop so i could get a shot, i didn't have it yet!

Sooty Robin

Back at the lodge, this was it, our last night and then back to Hotel Bougainvillea (and hot shower) for our final night before flying out the following morning.
There were still a few specialties of the lodge i hadn't yet photographed and i remedied that soon.

Black-and-yellow Silky-flycatcher

Ruddy-tailed Flycatcher
a distant shot of a very small bird.


Long-tailed Silky-flycatcher

That's a wrap!

Our last full day in Costa Rica was spent travelling back to Hotel Bougainvillea and later a walk out for pizza near the hotel. A thunderstorm rolled in then and soaked us.

You can see the dark thundercloud layer ominously in this shot.

I'm glad to finally have this written report finished, for those considering this same trip, i hope it has been some help.

I feel refreshed and actually eager to get out shooting again locally, i was not shooting as much as i would have liked before the trip i gotta admit.

Thanks for looking and reading!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Costa Rica June 2014 (Part 4)

So we were about to spend 3 nights at Laguna Del Legarto lodge, up near the Nicaraguan border, closest town is Boca Tapada. When we were arranging our transfer at La Selva they had a hard time trying to figure out where it was exactly but they figured it out and the next morning a shiny new commuter van pulled up and we loaded up our bags. A young guy with his girl friend in the next seat. They didn't say anything to us the whole time and talked really quietly in spanish. I realized then that we were travelling right when Costa Rica was going to play it's next match against Italy, no wonder the mood was somber, i felt bad that he couldn't be watching the game but at least he had his radio tuned to the game, again, so quietly that i could barely hear a thing.
As we drove through little towns i could see that every television was on to the game and small crowds were formed at every one, watching, all the school kids were wearing Costa Rica team jerseys and soccer balls were being bounced around everywhere.
Eventually the paved road we were on ended and a gravel road continued on through km's of pineapple fields, oh right, this must be the rough 36 km from Pital to Boca Tapada we had to travel to get there. I could tell our driver was not impressed by having to drive his fancy new van on it but what could he do? a fare was a fare. He took it slow actually, it felt like a long time and finally we saw a sign for the resort and later a steep muddy road and we were at the resort.
It all worked out in the end for the driver because there were still 10 minutes left in the game and he got to watch. All the lodge employees were celebrating the eventual win and we met Kurt, the owner with a huge smile on his face, he apologized for the commotion and said it was a historical match for the country, i understood completely.

Kurt told us that Jorge had already come in at 7am, i found out later that he left his place in Alajuala at 2am to make the drive up, dedication.

the lodge was pretty darned spectacular, it was on a hill, surrounded by small lagoons, there were canoe's free to use, a couple of forest trails, nice cabins (with hammock on porch) and best of all, they had feeders up in a couple of spots next to the dining area/shooting platform. We had a roof over our heads as well so shooting in the rain was no problem, it would come in handy as we had a fair amount of rain during our visit, including very loud thunder storms at night that would shake the walls of the cabin. The stars were huge at night, as were the mosquitoes and tiny black biting flies that went to town on my wife, leaving her arms and legs covered in bites, we had had mosquitoes at all the spots we had stayed at already, they were just starting to add up now, even on me.

We unpacked in our cabin quickly and i was soon back at the shooting area, i could see plenty of activity, the bananas they were using were attracting all sorts of species.

I didn't realize at the time, but honeycreepers were a house specialty and i got my fill, up close.
One could just stay set up in one spot all day and not get bored, plus you could eat your meals there too, no reason to leave right?

Shining Honeycreeper

Red-legged Honeycreeper

Green Honeycreeper

Other birds around the feeders included

Montezuma Oropendola

Brown-hooded Parrot

Golden-hooded Tanager

Passerini's Tanager

Black-cheeked Woodpecker

Finally we met up again with Jorge and he said he had been shooting already that morning and had some spots to show me now.

We headed into the forest about 100 metres to a small shack with hummingbird feeders, few hummers around and we weren't looking for them this time anyways, Jorge wanted to show me a Slaty Antshrike

what a beauty, later we headed back to the feeders and shot some more.
I asked Kurt later if they had been getting any toucans in lately and what he told me wasn't encouraging, he said that having just nested, it was possible that the toucans were relying on insects and other proteins when feeding now and the bananas were not being visited, lately.

No worries because we were planning something else as the real main attraction of this visit, costly but maybe worth it if everything worked out - Kurt knew of a blind setup close by that specialized in vultures, King vultures specifically, if we wanted, they would buy a cow's head and place it in a pit next to the blind for us.
The meat would cost a certain amount and if the King vultures never showed, that was all we had to pay for, if the birds did come, then the overall price was increased substantially, no real problem because Jorge and i were splitting the cost and i couldn't think of a more unique bird to shoot, how many opportunities like this come up?
We woke up next morning and met up at the dining/shooting area and got busy. the staff would inform us if they saw any King vultures circling above but so far, nothing.
We shot the feeders and got our fill of honeycreepers, breakfast was served and we took a break to sip some coffee and eat some eggs, rice and beans (typical breakfast). It was raining but a good morning so far, suddenly it got a whole lot better :)

2 toucans (twocans) in a tree, next thing we knew, they were down on the perches going for the bananas, we went bananas (ok, maybe just me) but finally, here was what i had dreamed about, toucans on a nice perch, and up close, i had to back the tripod up and move around some tables to get them all in, at 500mm, they filled up the viewfinder nicely. The birds struck quickly and were gone, as luck would have it, i got some shots of a new toucan for me Keel-billed Toucan

It didn't end there though, next came a gang of Collared aracaris, raiding the bananas with gusto.

wow, so much fun, time to finish breakfast though.
Having done just that we were startled momentarily when one of the staff with binoculars on shouted King Vulture!
it was on.

the most luxurious blind i've ever been in. It was obviously constructed specifically for vultures because it had sealed windows, vultures can smell extremely well. We were so close to the action though, i knew Jorge and his 800mm were challenged even more than i was and we all hoped the birds would fly onto a distant perch so we could full body in frame. King vultures are pretty amazing (spectacular?) birds, much larger than Turkey or Black and when they came to feed everyone else got in line behind them.

While we concentrated on shooting the King vultures we didn't forget to shoot the Turkey's and Black vultures as well.

It was kind of a surreal experience, almost like sitting at home watching a nature show on your big screen TV, the sounds were something else as well, the hollow thudding sound the skull made when ripped at was ever present. thankfully we never saw any real gore, it was all hidden away below eye level in the pit.

After high-fiving each other for getting some decent shots (Api shot video of the whole feeding as well) we headed back up to the lodge.
When we got back we were treated to a stunning pair of Black-crowned Tityras at the feeders.


In the afternoon Jorge drove us down towards Boca Tapada to do some road-side birding, had we not been with him, we would never have seen any of these next birds.

Nicaraguan Seed-finch

Blue-black Grassquit (a very small bird)

Caribbean and Pacific races of Variable Seedeater

Grayish Saltator

Slaty Spinetail

and finally

Black-striped Sparrow

We had an awesome time shooting these guys but the road was getting more busy and it was time to head over to Adolpho's (lodge manager) place to check out the feeders in his yard, for a small donation towards keeping the bananas stocked one could visit and shoot all they wanted. His place was small but lush and jungle-like, he even had hummingbird feeders up, since the birds he was getting were pretty much the same as up at the lodge, i didn't shoot much new, although this hummingbird was pretty cool.

Crowned Woodnymph

The next day we were treated to another show by the toucans (3 of them this time along with the aracari gang)

Black-cowled Oriole

Chestnut-colored Woodpecker

Later we went for an afternoon drive through some back-country roads and shot

Crested Guan

White-collared Manakin

Red-breasted Blackbird 
(right when this bird landed on the fence so nicely Jorge realized his memory cards were full, he had to run back to car to change em up and when he got back the bird had flown, i felt bad for the guy, i knew he really wanted one).

Last bird i will post from Laguna Del Legarto is this Broad-billed Motmot, it was our last night there and we had shot some amazing birds, Jorge had to head back down to his home and work and we said our goodbyes, he was like the candy-man in that he showered us in Costa Rican snacks! plantain chips and corn chips, bags and bags (he worked as a sort of distributor for a snack food company and had a lot of product in his vehicle.
It was great to meet another bird photog, i could relate to his passion, and even though his english was shaky, and my spanish was even more shaky we still understood each other completely, he would point to his ear suddenly out in the field, next he would point to his eye, and well, that's universal for "i hear a bird"! to any birder.
I told him we have a place for him to stay if he ever comes up to Canada, i'd love to show him my part of the world.

Anyways, Laguna del Legarto had a lot of different frogs in the forest, i never saw any of them because i was shooting birds but at least my wife got to shoot them on our last day with the help of a guide at the lodge, she did really well.

To be continued!

The Waiting Area

The Waiting Area