Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Costa Rica - Part 3

From Solimar we travelled next to Monteverde but, on the basis that you can never have too many opportunities to look at shorebirds, there were diversions on the way to the salinas at Colorado and a second visit to Punta Morales. Both sites had numerous Grey Plovers, Short-billed Dowitchers, Willets, Black-necked Stilts, Western and Least Sandpipers and more. At Punta Morales there were 20 Marbled Godwits, not a common species here, and a Franklin's Gull, my first ever in Costa Rica.

In past years the drive from sea level up to Monteverde, located at an elevation of about 4,500 feet, has been a slow, bumpy experience but much of the road has recently been surfaced and the journey is now much more enjoyable. As we gained height, there were spectacular views over the Gulf of Nicoya. By mid-afternoon we were at our new base, the excellent Trapp Family Lodge.

The modern town of Monteverde was founded in the 1950s by Quakers from the USA. It is now a major tourist destination with the main attraction being what we have come to know as the Monteverde Crowd Forest Reserve that is said to draw around 70,000 visitors annually.

We spent what remained of the day at the Hummingbird Gallery, essentially a shop with several hummingbird feeders outside that regularly attract seven or eight species of hummers and also Bananaquits. It's a great place to spend an hour or more but for the first-time visitor it's daunting to be faced with so many new birds. With males and females of some species looking completely different, it's quite a challenge.

Purple-throated Mountain-gem

Green-crowned Brilliant

Green Violet-ear

Coppery-headed Emerald

Violet Sabrewing

The following morning we set off not to the Monteverde Reserve but to the nearby Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve. However, this too is becoming increasingly popular and it's fair to say that this whole area is not the place to be if you're seeking solitude! Having said that, the birding is excellent and the whole 'rainforest experience' truly wonderful with mosses, ferns, flowers and epiphytes growing on the trees and dangling roots and vines sweeping across the trails.

Cloud Forest

Without doubt the star birds for us were the Three-wattled Bellbird and the Resplendent Quetzal, but there was a strong supporting cast that included the exotic-sounding Brown-billed Scythebill, Spangle-cheeked Tanager, Streak-breasted Treehunter, Silvery-fronted Tapaculo and Prong-billed Barbet. We could hear the Bellbird and the Quetzal long before we saw them; in fact we spent quite a while searching for the Bellbird in the branches above our heads before finally it showed itself. Only a few minutes after that success, we located the Quetzal and truly resplendent it was, too!

Resplendent Quetzal

The other main site that we visited at Monteverde was what is now called Santuario Ecológico, formerly Finca Ecológica. This has always provided good birding with the emphasis very much on ground-dwelling species and true to form amongst a decent list of birds seen were White-eared Ground-Sparrow, Ovenbird, Black-breasted Wood-Quails and Chiriqui Quail-Dove, all of them on the forest floor.

Quite a lot of birding was also done along the roadsides where amongst the often-seen species were White-throated Robin, Blue-throated Toucanet, Slate-throated Redstart and Mountain Elaenia.

Slate-throated Redstart

Monteverde can be a wet (think rainforest) and windy place but on this occasion the weather was reasonably kind to us and the birding very good indeed.

Next: would we see the Arenal volcano or would it (as so often) have its head in the clouds?

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