Thursday, 1 March 2018

Costa Rica Nov 2017

In November I was lucky enough to return for my 12th visit to Costa Rica. Each time I have co-led an Ornitholidays group, though this one will probably be my last since the company has now been sold. As usual I was impressed by the vast areas of well-protected forest from sea-level to mountain top, and by the fact that everyone there seems to understand the concepts of conservation and eco-tourism. It's an inspiring country to visit. 

 In the group, I was lucky enough to have several very talented wildlife photographers who were happy to share their images. This Coppery-headed Emerald was taken by Martin Robinson. It's one of the handful of Costa Rica endemics - there are so few, since almost all the regional endemics occur also in West Panama. There are over a hundred of these. 

This shot of a male Red-headed Barbet was the work of Roger Christopher. There are many roadside stops where teas, coffee and cake can be enjoyed while watching the feeders outside: often with well-positioned lichen-covered branches carefully placed nearby to make the settings seem more natural!

 Martin spent hours working at capturing hummingbirds in flight. Here a male Blue-throated Goldentail hovers at vervain flowers at the Arenal Observatory Lodge.

We came across the iconic Keel-billed Toucan in a number of places, such as at Arenal. More often we saw the larger and inaccurately-named Black-mandibled Toucan: the local subspecies has a chestnut and yellow bill.  

 The Fasciated Tiger-Heron frequents the banks of fast-flowing streams, such as this one, flowing down from Arenal Volcano. We also had frequent encounters with its lowland cousin, the Bare-throated Tiger-Heron. 

We didn't focus only on birds: we had a tip-off that this Margay was visiting the Arenal staff dining-room for hand-outs for herself and her cub. In the same area was a venemous Eyelash Pit Viper: both subjects kept the photographers busy for a while!

 After Arenal, we headed north to Cano Negro, near the Nicaraguan border. Here the river was flooded following recent rains, but from our small boat, we discovered quiet backwaters where this long-toed Northern Jacana could step easily from one water-lily leaf to another. 

Here also we came across a rare sight: a pair of Yellow-breasted Crakes with their newly-hatched brood of black chicks. As with all these images, click on the photo to enlarge it. Thanks to Mark and Carren Holden for this shot.

We visited the small garden of a local artist and conservationist named Cope. Next to his garden pond he has constructed a photographic hide, from which Martin made this study of an American Pygmy Kingfisher

 Cope took us to a small woodland nearby where we were able to enjoy great views of this roosting Crested Owl, not an easy species to see in Costa Rica. Tis medium-sized owl (weighing 400g) feeds mostly on insects.

In another woodland, Cope pointed out a family of Spectacled Owls - white-headed juvenile in front with its darker parents in the background. Weighing 750g, this species feeds on small mammals, reptiles and birds such as jays and oropendolas. 

Rancho Naturalista is an eco-lodge designed for visiting birders and wildlife photographers. On a stretch of river nearby, we followed this Sunbittern for 45 minutes as it moved slowly downstream. Only once or twice did it open its wings to reveal the exquisite chestnut pattern. Not related to bitterns, its closest relatives are seriemas and trumpeters, but it is in a family of its own. Thanks to my wife Clare for this image.

The lodge garden is the place to look for this tiny hummer, the male Snowcap. It feeds on the vervain bushes which line the entrance drive, but they are easily dominated by the larger and aggressive Rufous-tailed Hummingbirds. It weighs 2.5g, and is only 6.5 cm long.

Still on the theme of hummers, here's another tiddler, only fractionally larger than the Snowcap. The male White-crested Coquette is adorned with more than its fair share of bright colours and striking plumage. It also finds the vervain irresistible. 

Often regarded as the world's most spectacular bird, the male Resplendent Quetzal is one that all visitors hope to see. We visited an area where a co-operative of local farmers keep an eye on their fruiting avocados (not the commercial ones) which are the quetzals' main diet. They can phone in their sightings to a local lodge, which encourages visits and tourist dollars to benefit them. The farm we visited (in pouring rain) had eight visiting quetzals that afternoon. Thankfully there was a shelter for us and our cameras.  

Our last forest reserve was Carara, in the Pacific lowlands. This is a great place to find the Great Tinamou, which can often be found quietly feeding in the leaf-litter by the main trails. Many thanks to my friend and co-leader Herman Venegas for taking us to so many great wildlife spots and finding so many species for us. And thanks again to all the photographers.


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