martes, 21 de febrero de 2017

Journey to the south: Durika Grasslands and the Osa

Durika Grassland, Buenos Aires, Puntarenas (Talamanca Mountain range at the back)
Starting my day at 2:50 am in Turrialba on January 23rd 2017, I woke up with enthusiasm thinking about my second trip of the year: this time the destination was the southern section of Costa Rica, a totally new landscape for my eyes and of course new birds to delight me with their appearance and their songs.

Screenshot low temperature
Departing at 4:30 a.m. from Cartago, we rolled up to our first stop: Cerro de la Muerte, more precisely Tres de Junio at Km 71 along the Panamerican highway. As soon as we arrived there at 6:00 am, we noticed that the vegetation around us was covered with frost, which made us look at the temperature and we noticed that we were barely above freezing, but it was also the best time for seeing birds! It was a very good stop, even though I was very cold and my fingers were so freezing that I almost could not move the focus wheel on my binoculars, I achieved 8 lifers (term that refers the first observation of a species) there! Some of them are endemic to Costa Rica and western Panama: Black-billed Nightingale Thrush, Timberline Wren, Yellow-thighed Finch, the famous Zeledonia coronata or Wrenthrush and the one that impressed me the most, Silvery-fronted Tapaculo which gave us a really nice view, singing and moving his body in synchrony with his vocalizations. I had tried to see it several times on past birding tours, and always heard it singing loudly next to me but it had been too fast, dark and shy to be visible until this day!

Frost on Tres de Junio, Cerro de la Muerte
On the way out we saw a lot of love in the air, or more scientifically, male birds full of hormones doing courtship displays, a Resplendent Quetzal male singing attractively for the female and flying six feet up from the highest pine tree, just to descend immediately in an almost straight line, showing his amazing and distinctive long tail glittering in the morning sun. Also, we saw a very confused Volcano Hummingbird performing a courtship display to a Black-capped Flycatcher... That was hilarious!
I also had the opportunity to see my first male White-crested Coquette on a Gallinazo tree full of yellow blossoms at the side of the road before getting to San Isidro del General, a good looking male with the tip of his gorget feathers flared.

On the first night in Buenos Aires we drove up the road that leads to the Durika Indigenous reserve, looking for one my target birds, White-tailed Nightjar, which we found successfully, long views in the scope catching every field mark: Buffy nuchal collar, white throat, white moustachial stripes and of course the clear white lateral feathers on tail.

White-tailed Nightjar Hydropsalis cayennensis. Durika Grassland
On the second day we went to the same spot as the night before, the Alto Salitre grasslands (road to Durika), a gorgeous place where the views of being in between the Talamanca and Fila Costena mountain ranges combine with the natural grasslands, full of birds singing in the warmth of the daylight, giving a peaceful sensation that takes away one’s worries. We arrived at six a.m. and spent all morning there looking for “rare” birds, got eight more lifers in about five hours - I was so excited! Among my lifers I must highlight the Marbled Wood-Quail, which was the first species I have ever seen from Odontophoridae family (Wood-Quails). To hear it singing was amazing, one could clearly hear the word /kor-ko-va-do/, which explains why ticos call it “Corcovado Quail”. A pair of Golden-naped Woodpeckers were also a great lifer, endemic to Costa Rica and western Panama, gave us an excellent show flying from tree to tree in a mixed flock with pairs of Red-crowned Woodpeckers, Masked Tityras and Black-crowned Tityras. Finally, we spotted a Scaled Pigeon which had been singing since we arrived there, but we couldn’t find it. Since it sings with its bill closed it creates a ventriloquist-like effect which might well be a natural defense mechanism to avoid detection and depredation.

Scaled Pigeon Patagioenas speciosa, Durika Grassland
Common Potoo Nyctibius griseus
Guanacaste from Buenos Aires, Puntarenas 
During the night we went for a night prowl to Guanacaste de Buenos Aires, about a 30 minute drive from where we were staying. We stopped to listen for night sounds, and at the beginning not more than crickets were calling, but with a little patience we found that in the tree next to us was a Black-and-White Owl, a Tropical Screech Owl and a Common Potoo! Yes, my first Potoo, with its forlorn song let us know fairly quickly where it was perched. We were able to see its huge yellow eyes and the black spots on its breast, giving the impression of wearing a bib.

Female and Male Yellow-billed Cotinga
Carpodectes antoniae. Rincón de Osa.
On the third day we made a long drive (3 hours) to Rincón de Osa, La Gamba and Golfito, an awesome tour producing twenty lifers in total! At our first stop I was completely delighted, as soon as we arrived a flock of the threatened Yellow-billed Cotinga was flying in and out between two tall, leafless trees at the side of the road. Also here we saw a pair of Baird’s Trogons and Charming Hummingbird, all very good lifers and all Costa Rica and western Panama endemics!

Gray-lined Hawk
Buteo nitidus. Golfito.
After lunch we went to Golfito, and among sugar cane fields we found a drying wetland full of sandpipers, plovers, ducks, Southern Lapwings (more than 100, counted carefully!), Northern Jacanas and White Ibis. There I had 7 lifers, including the hard to see Gray-lined Hawk perched closely, and a gorgeous Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture which completes my Costa Rican vultures list (I have already seen all 5 species). Apparently the flooded and muddy patches amongst the grassy fields attract those kinds of birds that feed from little crustaceans, worms, insects and other little organisms that live buried in wetlands, because it is an easy and secure place to feed, birds also don’t have to worry about the competition because every species’ bill is designed to feed from different types of organisms and at different depths in the mud.

Black-necked Stilt. Himantopus mexicanus. Wetland on sugar cane plantations on Golfito.
During the late afternoon we went to La Gamba at a very good time, finding five more lifers of which I must highlight the Blue-headed Parrot, Pale-breasted Spinetail and a wonderful long view of a female Red-rumped Woodpecker, which is a specialty bird of the area. My aim there was to see Rusty-margined Flycatcher, which we tried hard for, but never found it, meaning I will have to go back for it, can’t wait!

Female Red-rumped Woodpecker. Veniliornis kirkii. La Gamba, Osa.
Next day we went again to the natural grasslands on Alto Salitre, and then birded our way back to Cartago, but I didn’t see any more lifers. When we were passing over Cerro de la Muerte I counted my lifers for the trip and tallied 49, only one more to reach 50! It was 3.30pm and we needed to find one more new bird. Even though there was traffic we got to Ujarrás valley at 5.30pm and desperately looked for Prevost’s Ground-Sparrow, when we were hopeless, one of the guides found an Orchard Oriole getting ready to sleep in a nearby tree, and that was my lifer number 50 for the tour!

Visited area
The tour was incredible, bird watching in every place in every moment, nature and bird lovers, learning behaviors, sounds and the “gists” that allow us to identify every single species. This was a whirlwind tour of a completely new area of Costa Rica. The more I travel for my quest and the more new birds I get to study in the field, the more I appreciate the necessity of taking action in preserving these species and their ecosystem.

Fiery-billed Araçari. Pteroglossus frantzii. Durika Grassland.

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