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Costa Rica trip report part 2

2005-12-12 - 8:44 a.m.

all photos � 2005 by Elaine Radford & Roger Williams
This is Part 2 of my Costa Rica trip report. To read Part 1, click here. To read my bird list, click here.

Wednesday, December 7, 2005

My early morning bird walk around Playa Hermosa was especially productive this morning. I first found my life Hoffmann's Woodpecker, a male posing quietly on a telephone pole, and then three noisy and dramatically tailed and crested White-Throated Magpie-Jays came screeching in for a landing. My newest life birds destroyed a tropical fruit by pecking it open and eating just what they wanted of it, but DH was lucky enough to wander out and see them before they took off. And a good thing too -- this is the kind of glamorous tropical species that people travel to see.

We also observed a perfectly horrible Mantled Howler Monkey that re-arranged how it was sitting to show off its testicles to us -- I guess that's one way to discourage the tourists from taking pictures. As we returned to the hotel, we found the female Hoffmann's Woodpecker.

When I paid for our stay, I was informed that hundred dollar bills in the series CB are "not accepted in Costa Rica." What the--? Since my remaining cash was all from that series, I didn't know quite what to think, except that if it were true, we might have a tiny problem since the Continental ticket agent had already told me that the departure tax had to be paid in cash.

Highway 1, the Interamerican Highway, is not a one way street, and we were not driving against the traffic. It just looks like that because it is so full of potholes that everyone drives on the side of the street that has the least potholes, whether it's their side of the road or not. My new T-shirt has the Costa Rica motto, Pura Vida on it, but I quickly thought of a new national motto if they ever get bored with that one: Hey, they got worse roads than this in Kenya if you look hard enough. Never mind what they say in the guidebook. If you plan to rent a vehicle, spring for the extra bucks and rent a four wheel drive. We saw a few people attempting the highway in regular sedans, and they looked absolutely miserable. And the roads are absolutely lined with dispiriting white crosses, which I assume represent those who have died in various dramatic accidents along the way.

We drove to the Arenal area and around Lago Arenal to Lago Coter, without making too terribly many wrong turns -- or without ending up on our side, although we did pass an eighteen wheeler that had flipped. The young driver was safely out of the vehicle, looking rather disgusted with it all.

At last our slow but bouncing travels took us partly around Lake Arenal, with various views of the rounded volcanic mountains, toward Lake Coter and the rather generically named Eco-Lodge, where we'd reserved a cabin overlooking the water toward the volcano. Erm, you notice anything odd about that picture taken from our porch? You really have to squint to see any hint of a volcano. In fact, I was tempted to photoshop it a little, to bring out the volcano through the foggy mists of the cloud forest, but I decided that it wouldn't be ethical and, besides, I don't yet quite know how. In any case, the cloud forest was as advertised -- cloudy. Some would even call it rainy.

After checking into our cabin, where we were greeted by a Long-Tailed Hermit that visited the red flowers outside our window, we went into the town of Nuevo Arenal, where we found a cheap restaurant that turned out to be owned by a talkative ex-pat who was more than usually clueless on the subject of New Orleans. I mean he'd heard of it and all, but as he was from California, he was a little shaky on the subject. "How long ago did that happen? I guess about a year?"

Despite the rain, in the late afternoon, I hiked a nearby 1 kilometer trail. It was foggy, rather than rainy, under the canopy, and it was quite atmospheric with the setting sun coming through the clouds rolling through the trees. Although it wasn't very birdy, I did get quite close to a new life bird, the Slate-Throated Redstart. The trail ended near the main entrance and registration desk, and as I first observed a Scarlet-Rumped Tanager and then tried to persuade a loud singing bird (perhaps a wren?) to emerge from the bushes, the manager and a couple of employees came out. They were seeking a sloth, and a sloth they found and pointed out to me.

At dinner we discovered what I had already suspected -- that we were the only ones there. It was dark by then, and the staff had gathered around a computer game, but quickly emerged to serve us wine and dinner. The advantage of staying at the Overlook Hotel is that you don't have to eat a buffet.

We'd invested in a bottle of rum in Nuevo Arenal, and we mixed some rum drinks while watching the volcano by night for flashes of lava. Actually, what we watched was the rain and the clouds move over the volcano, at times completely obscuring the entire landscape.

Thursday, December 8, 2005

In the morning before breakfast, the trees near our cabin attracted a mixed species flock -- Yellow-Throated Euphonia, Summer Tanager, Scarlet-Rumped Tanager, Blue-Gray Tanager, Palm Tanager, and the beautiful Golden-Hooded Tanager. A Green Honeycreeper even joined the scene. DH noticed a flycatcher on the wire which turned out to be Ochre-Bellied Flycatcher. The morning was off to a great start.

We were still alone at the inn, so we had a "typical" breakfast of eggs over easy, beans, rice, plaintains, a crumbly cheese, and various tropical fruits. Meanwhile, on the bird table outside, the tanagers and euphonia we'd seen earlier feasted down, soon to be joined by several Baltimore Orioles. Afterward, we noticed movement in a tree near the lodge and watched a charming pair of Bananaquits court each other with beakfuls of nest material.

Then we headed down the rainforest path. I ended up walking this trail 5 times, but this morning was the most productive. I again found the Slate-Throated Redstart, so DH could see it too. We found my life pair of Wedge-billed Woodcreepers and another life pair of Spotted Barbtails. Actually, I think I saw the Wedge-Bills yesterday, but it was too dark and they wouldn't turn enough away from the tree trunk for me to be comfortable making the call. This time the light was better, and the birds more cooperative. I got a little ahead of DH and also got a good look at a male White-Collared Manakin, another lifer for me, but unfortunately he missed it.

We spent most of the day driving most of the rest of the way around Lake Arenal, over the dam and into Fortuna, where we lunched at an open air cafe overlooking the volcano. Once or twice, the clouds even cleared, and you could see the crater. We also tried to find the Fortuna waterfall. According to the guidebook, you could see it from the road for free and without hiking for several hours down and then up the canyon. However, the guidebook writer must have written that part in the bar, because when we reached the trailhead, 1) there was indeed a fee, and 2) the clerk said that you couldn't see the waterfall at all well without hiking down because it was very distant. And, in fact, it wasn't at all obvious how you could have ever seen the thing from the road. Sure, there was a fence up, but it was a chainlink fence, you know? Still, I'm glad we drove that far, because in addition to the views I saw my life Crane Hawk with its long orange-y pink legs. You could have knocked me off my perch.

We also visited the Arenal Botanical Garden. It was actually rather dark, with a canopy of trees, so it didn't represent the kind of garden planted to attract hordes of sparring butterflies and hummingbirds such as we're used to at Mizzell's. Indeed, many of the butterflies were in a large enclosure, where they were being raised in captivity. We'd seen a good many wild Morphos and figured here was our chance to photograph some. Ha. The tame ones are not any more cooperative than the wild ones. They are restless spirits, almost never stopping. I did photograph this one with closed wings, but it hardly looks like the same insect from this perspective, now does it?

Weirdly, I actually got a better photograph of a wild insect that had introduced itself to the botanical garden.

Also, on the way back, we saw a nice double rainbow. I tried to photograph it, but only the much brighter inner rainbow seems to have come out. Perhaps I can draw out the other rainbow when I learn more about photoshop, but you'll have a wait for that, since I'm only on Chapter 3.

Back at the Eco Lodge, I managed another quick hike around the rainforest trail before it got too dark, allowing me to discover two rather talkative Bay Wrens. They liked to tease and stay under cover, but they hung around for a long time and gave me a chance to see enough of these striking birds to finally get an ID.

I emerged at the cabin end of the trail at sunset, just in time to see the clouds clear over the volcano. I got all excited, hoping to see some lava flung about this evening, but the clouds were already rolling over the mountain again less than five minutes later. Indeed, DH claimed not to have even noticed the brief disappearance of the cloud cover. As far as volcanoes go, on this trip, the fiesty mudpots put on a better show than the secretive Arenal.

Friday, December 9, 2005

It was much rainier this morning than it was on Thursday, but I still hiked the trail twice, once before and once after breakfast in hopes of catching a couple of new species. I got lucky near the cabin, where I had a fantastic look at my life White-Ringed Flycatcher from every angle -- and I almost missed it because I wasn't sure if I wanted to spend the time checking out "yet another" confusing masked flycatcher. In the actual forest, I got my life Paltry Tyrannulet (the book calls it Mistletoe Tyrannulet) so you know the bird was cooperative and showed me every angle to give me that one. This too is the day that I caught sight of a wren scooting mouse-like across the trail and a short way through the underbrush -- my 1,000th life bird, the Song Wren. Of course, I didn't know it was number 1,000. I thought I was probably 3 or 4 birds short, since I hadn't been keeping count. So imagine my delight when I came home and entered the names in my data base!

A tour group had checked into the lodge, so breakfast was a buffet instead of cooked food, but we still enjoyed great entertainment from the bird table. The silliest sight was a very heavily molted Red-Legged Honeycreeper. His feathers were a horror. Although he did have a few patches of actual blue feathers here and there on his body, I'm not sure we could have IDed him as to species if not for those very distinctive legs.

DH went four-wheeling back to Liberia, where we got a hotel room near the airport. Then we continued onward to Playa Hermosa for a last stroll around.

We lunched at Pizz N Love, which featured a rather interesting menu and orange psychedelic decor. Back at the hotel, we took a swim in the pool while three Amazons and probably a lot more than three grackles and vultures flew overhead. Then it was early to bed, since we had to be at the airport at (eek!) 6 A.M. to check in for our flight and return our rental car.

Saturday, December 10th

The rental car dude showed up at the dot of 6 to pick up the SUV, and everything went quite smoothly from there. Continental didn't even lose my bags. In fact, they were both properly priority tagged so that they came out first and we could grab them quickly to avoid the line forming at customs behind us. I guess Houston has captured the bad guy who shares DH's name, since his passport wasn't tagged this time. If only everything in life went this smoothly! Of course I got the first class upgrade from Houston to New Orleans. There was an equipment change, and I think the airplane was larger, since even though I was in 1B, there was actually floor storage so I didn't have to lift my backpack into the overhead compartment. The seat was way better than Northwest's 1B too. It was like a real leather armchair with a great footrest that swung out and, short as I am, practically allowed me to lay down flat. Whee. It was hard to believe the vacation was already over, but I was brought back to reality when we drove home and saw that the pile of debris had -- still -- not been removed. What's weird is that they actually came by and picked up the air-conditioner and a lot of the most obnoxious trash while I was writing this on Sunday, the 11th. They left my neighbor's refrigerators though.

the crazy tourists in front of us were practically being bounced out of the truck, but their troubles had only begun, for soon they were being panhandled by multi-generational gangs of white-nosed coatis

then their attention turned to us, we're lucky to escape with our lives, forgettabout our plantain chips

Non-bird vertebrates list:

  1. Iguana
  2. Variegated Squirrel
  3. Agouti
  4. White-Nosed Coati
  5. White-Faced Capuchin
  6. Mantled Howler Monkey
  7. Basilisk
  8. Mediterranean Gecko
  9. Unidentified Skink
  10. Bullfrog
  11. back - next

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