miércoles, 26 de abril de 2017

Getting to know the birds of Northeast Costa Rica: Alajuela Birding Hotspots

Tica Birding Adventure on the Medio Queso boat tour
Running down the hill and saying goodbye to my clients at Rancho Naturalista on March 5th, this fourth journey started. I needed to sleep in San Jose that night in order to depart at 4.30 am next day to the north.  This time our main stops included La Fortuna, Medio Queso and  Caño Negro, once again all new hotspots to enjoy!
View from Canopy San Luis hanging bridge
First morning, we arrived at Canopy San Luis at 8am. At the very entrance we were delighted by colorful birds on the feeders: Chestnut-capped Brush Finch, Wood Thrush, Emerald and Silver-throated Tanangers feeding on the bananas and hummingbirds as the endemic Coppery-headed Emerald and Green-crowned Brilliant feeding on the sugar water feeders. 


Silver-throated (Tangara icterocephala)Emerald (Tangara florida) and Bay-headed (Tangara gyrola) Tanagers, Canopy San Luis
On the trails I got five lifers, first one was a Black-headed Nightingale Thrush who was walking some feet ahead of us in almost all the way by the trails, was fascinating to see it so easy! 


Black headed Nightingale Thrush (Catharus mexicanus), Canopy San Luis
A little bit further we spotted my first Quail-Dove, it was next to us, three feet far, walking slowly and feeding from the ground, a Purplish-backed Quail Dove (you can see this species at Rancho Naturalista, but I have never been lucky enough to get it), with it's remarkable black mallard stripe and bright purple patch on the back, like painted by an artist, simple but beautiful bird. 

We kept going and later, in one of the hanging bridges, perched very near one from the other, we saw a very nice pair of Orange-bellied Trogons (endemic to Costa Rica and western Panama), which looks very similar to Collared Trogon (the equivalent species you can find in Rancho Naturalista) but definitely you can tell it's a different species because of the beautiful bright yellow-orange belly and also because both species do not overlap in the same territory. 


Orange-bellied Trogon (Trogon aurantiiventris), Canopy San Luis

After a very nice Hepatic Tanager as what we thought, the last lifer species from the trail, we sat to eat our sandwich as breakfast (sandwich could not go missing on our trips!), to get ready for our next stop, when suddenly one of the zipline guides (who we met on the trail and knew about our interest in birds) came running to tell us to go with him because a very special bird was around. It was starting to rain and I was totally out of base when he call us, so when I heard "umbrella" I thought he was telling us to bring an umbrella, so we just followed the guide. When I got to the place, I was pleasantly surprised that it was actually a
 Bare-necked Umbrellabird! A beautiful female that wasn´t on our target birds list, but was a plus and one of the best birds of the tour, as it is quite rare.



 Keel-billed Motmot 
(Electron carinatumArenal

When we finally arrived to Arenal, we birded in the afternoon along a road that runs along lake Arenal and we had one target bird on mind. As is known my fascination with motmots, so it was a must to get the last one on my Costa Rican motmot list, the Keel-billed Motmot. We looked for it for some time but it never showed itself, just a couple of Broad-billed Motmots that came right away when they heard the playback. Both of these species have the same voice, as a matter of fact they are known to hybridize (when two different species interbreed).

But we didn't give up, next morning we went again to the Peninsula Road along Lake Arenal and we very quickly got the Keel-billed Motmot, I was so happy! Now I have seen all Costa Rican motmots, all of them gorgeous and full of a special mystic behind the dark mask over their eyes. That morning was very productive, I got very good views of Great Antshike male and female and as we where looking for Bare-crowned Antbird (which we didn't see) an unexpected Yellow-breasted Chat appeared for a few seconds, but long enough for all of us to see it, It was so exciting to see such a good and rare bird without being even looking for it.  Another pleasant sighting we got there, was a pair of Great Currassow walking together for a long time, long enough to follow and photograph them.





Male and female Great Currassow (Crax rubra), Arenal
At 10 am we were at Arenal Sky Trek, amongst a lot of people ready for extreme experiences on the park's attractions, but from our part we were exited just to walk the tails, knowing that probably we would get the same extreme experience with the birds we knew we could find there. My first lifer here was a Streak-crowned Antvireo that was moving in flock with Slaty Antwrens and Tawny-crowned Greenlet. Some meters ahead we where very lucky to run into an army ant swarm, being followed by Northern-barred Woodcreepers, Zeledon's Antbirds, Bicolored Antbird and Ocellated Antbird, the later two species being lifers for me. Many people thinks this group of birds are named antbirds because they eat ants, but that's not the reason why. It is because they feed from the insects that run away trying to safe their lifers from the terribly agressive army ants, that kill everything that moves on their way.


Army Ant Swarm, Sky Trek Arenal
Not far from the mirador (view point) I got the chance to see another lifer: White-throated Shrike Tanager, male and female in a mixed flock. Very grateful to see it because it was also on my target list during my "Journey to the South" (first article) so I had study it before and was wanting to see it. 


View at the Mirador at Sky Trek, La Fortuna

 On the trail back we were delighted by the beautiful song of a Nightingale Wren, whose voice compensates this species' dull, brown plumage. We were almost finishing the trail, b
ut this place had one more surprise for us.  As we were aproaching the parking lot a Slate-colored Grosbeak appeared, very tame, making quite a rustling noise trying to pull off a wild cucumber. It was 3 feet from us and we stay there long enough to watch it having a good time eating it with all his strength (it looked like wasn't easy to eat), another lifer to sum up! 

Slate-colored Grosbeak (Saltator grossus), Sky Trek Arenal
That day, we were supposed to spend the night at Los Chiles, so we left La Fortuna after lunch. Fortunately for us we got there with enough time to visit Medio Queso during sunset. Medio Queso is located in the border with Nicaragua and consists of a large flat area that floods to form a wetland that protects delicate ecosystems, a perfect environment for a lot of water birds. On the way I got two lifers in the same tree, sitting side by side and singing were both White-collared Seedeater and a Ruddy breasted Seedeater, cute little birds! After that in the other side of the road and much to our surprise were a couple Jabiru feeding on fresh-water eels. It was a very good view, only the second time I see this gigantic species. The first time I had long views in the telescope in flying, but now I had the chance to appreciate it well. As we were enjoying the last lifer of the day, a Pinnated Bittern, we make friends (so to speak) with some police officers that were patrolling the border. For them it was unusual to find people just watching the birds, and after a little explanation and after they inspect our vehicle, they keep going.


Jabiru Couple (Jabiru mycteria), Medio Queso wetland
On the third day we went on a boat tour on the Medio Queso river at 6am, so at that time we were there waiting as extensive flocks of Black-bellied Whistiling Ducks, Cattle Egrets and Wood Storks over head. 


View from the port of Medio Queso wetland
We were there mainly to look for crakes but unfortunately we didn't see any new for me (I have only seen White-throated Crake).  Nevertheless, I had 7 lifers there, from the ones I must highlight: Nicaraguan Grackle, Nicaraguan Seed-Finch, two cute Least Bittern and a beautiful and solitary Sungrebe male swimming slowly at the border of the channel. Those were part of our target bird list for the second boat tour in Caño Negro, so it was great because we desist to do this second boat ride to save the money.


Nicaraguan Seed-Finch (Oryzoborus nuttingi), Medio Queso wetland



Least Bittern (Ixobrychus exilis), Medio Queso wetland
Sungrebe (Heliornis fulica), Medio Queso wetland
After breakfast we went to Caño Negro to hang around for the rest of the day. This is a little town full of paintings of biodiversity, but mainly birds, on the walls of its structures, showing its concern for environmental peace. Also a wet land very important for ecology, as a fact it is one the RAMSAR sites (wetlands of international importance for water birds habitat). During a short walk by the wetland we got the chance to see side by side a Lesser and Greater Yellowlegs. Very nice view through the scope that allowed me to study the differences between the species: bright yellow legs, gray at the base of the bill which is longer than the head on Greater Yellowlegs.


Lesser Yellowlegs (Tringa flavipes) at left and Greater Yellowlegs at right (Tringa melanoleuca),  Caño Negro
But our two target birds here were land birds, so after a look on the river(or channels) we started to go around the yards of houses in town, hoping that the locals don't look at us weird. We spent a long time looking for Spot-breasted Wren and Gray-headed Dove, but none of the species responded, so we decide to leave. When we were almost closing the car door, we heard the wren singing in the garden of a house at the back of us, and yes it was there! Such a beautiful wren, who lives in a very restricted area in Costa Rica. The sighting of the wren gave us inspiration to keep looking for the dove and after two more turns around the town, we spotted it, it was only a block away from where we got the wren. Totally successful! 


Gray-headed Dove (Leptotila plumbeiceps),  Caño Negro
With that excellent feeling of acomplishment we left to spend the last night of the tour at La Fortuna. After eating pizza for dinner we took a walk because we were very full. Even though we didn't had our binoculars with us, we were always birding and that's how we spotted a nice Barn Owl on the church's steeple, I have seen it before but a long time ago, and it was new year bird.  

The fourth day we went to look for Turquoise Cotinga. We went to Arenal Observatory Lodge because it has been showing recently, but didn't get it. However, we did see beautiful Swallow-tail Kite flying among the canopy of the incredible view. 


View from Arenal Observatory Lodge
Though the rest of the day was mainly spent travelling back home, we made several stops along the way but only achieved one more lifer, three very noisy  Black-faced Grosbeak flying around in the entrance of La Selva Biological Station. Before that we made a quick stop at the Mirador in Cinchona to check for the barbets and a possible lifer: Emerald Toucanet, but didn't appear.  However, the view of the barbets was very nice.

Back to my mountain in Turrialba at night, my Grandma was waiting for us with chicken soup and that's how this fourth adventure ended. Meanwhile enjoying the hot soup and relaxing, I realize that from now, to achieve lifers wouldn't be as easy as before, because now I had seen almost 60% of the Costa Rican birds. I achieve 28 lifers in this tour and 38 year birds, I have seen 523 species at this point. From now on, my trips are going to be mainly to check for target birds in very specific places. What can I say, Challenge accepted! It will be a great opportunity to keep learning about birds and nature and improve as a birdwatching guide, I can't wait!

Visited area

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