The second part of our full-day outing with Olivier Esquivel consisted of a visit to the rainforest which promised fantastic, colorful birds like motmots, tanagers, euphonias and toucans. After leaving Santa Rosa National Park we drove east along Highway 917 and gradually gained elevation as we climbed the slope of what I took to be one of the two volcanos that our next destination was nestled between. The road started out paved, but eventually turned into a some sort of hard-packed earthen trail embedded with rocks. This slowed us down, but gave us time to take in the views of the fields and wind turbines outside the van’s windows with the volcanoes looming in the background. An Eastern Meadowlark was a familiar sight in the grassy fields; like the Red-winged Blackbird, I knew it lived in Costa Rica year-round, but it still seemed strange to see one so far from “home”.
On May 31st Doran and I met Ollie Esquivel of Natural Discovery outside the gate at 5:30 am for our second birding outing. The best way to see lots of different birds is to visit as many different habitats as possible, so we had picked a full-day outing covering both the dry forest of the northwestern Pacific and the rainforest in the valley between Rincon de la Vieja and Cacao Volcanoes. The description on the website sounded terrific, as it promised the best combination of birding spots in Costa Rica. I was a bit worried about the weather, as afternoon showers in the rainforest are almost a given even in the dry season, and we were now over a month into the rainy season. I packed my rain gear and prepared for wet conditions, though I hoped that any showers would be light and of short duration.
When Ollie arrived I told him about the martins I had seen perching on top of the antenna on the roof at the resort, so he set up the scope and we got some great views. I also told him about the Ringed Kingfisher that perches in the trees in the large pit outside the gate, and sure enough when we looked we saw it fly by. Ollie also got me my first lifer of the day just down the road when he spotted three Crested Caracaras in the woods right next to the road. These huge falcons were on my wish list, and I was thrilled to see a couple of them together.
After our swim Doran and I had time to go back to our room before lunch, then headed up to the dining room shortly after noon. As mentioned before, the days seem longer in Costa Rica – it was just lunch time and already I’d gone on a walk and had a swim in the ocean; it felt like a full day when it was barely even 12:00pm! Lunch was quite tasty, as were all our meals at the Occidental. The buffet menu was quite good, and varied every day so we didn’t get tired of eating the same thing. My only disappointment was that the pineapple mint and pineapple ginger juices at breakfast weren’t available every day, nor were they available at lunch. Once we were done eating we headed out a different way, passing by the tennis courts to see what the rest of the resort looked like – it was definitely too hot and humid to play beneath the sweltering tropical sun, and the courts were empty.
After our birdwatching excursion on Monday we spent Tuesday relaxing at the resort. Once again I awoke hideously early and slipped out just after dawn to go birding around the resort. I heard the chatter of the parakeets coming from behind our building and headed off in that direction instead of the hummingbird spot. The usual White-winged Doves and Great-tailed Grackles were around, and I heard a couple of Rufous-naped Wrens near the mango trees. In the dead tree by the pool I found about ten Orange-chinned Parakeets perching out in the open.
After coming back from our Palo Verde birding trip with Olivier Esquivel I rested for a while, then went up to the red-flowering trees to look for the hummingbirds and Squirrel Cuckoos later in the afternoon. I didn’t see the cuckoos, and while I saw a few hummingbirds darting in the canopy, none perched out in the open long enough to get a good look at them.
After the boat tour we did some birding down a dirt road which was initially lined with trees on both sides before opening up onto a large field on the right-hand side. The mosquitoes in the treed area were terrible, and even though we sprayed up with Deep Woods Off! both Doran and I got bit – the nasty little creatures even bit me right through my clothes in several places.
Right near the beginning of our walk Ollie heard a Tropical Gnatcatcher and finally found it about 20 feet up in a tree. It was difficult to see in the branches, so I asked if pishing would bring it in. Ollie said that they were more responsive to the call of the Ferruginous Pygmy Owl – which sounds exactly like our Northern Saw-whet Owl. Ollie started whistling the owl’s call, but the gnatcatcher stayed up in the canopy. It appeared to be a cute little bird, just like the Blue-Gray Gnatcatchers of southern Ontario with a black cap, and just as active.
I hired a bird guide for two of our days in Costa Rica, and on Monday we spent half a day in the Palo Verde area. Olivier (pronounced Olive-YAIR, not O-liv-ee-ay) Esquivel of Natural Discovery was recommended to me by another tour guide who was unavailable for any one-day birding tours during our week, and has excellent reviews on several internet sites including Trip Advisor and Birdforum.net. Ollie, as we were told to call him, met us at the resort gate at 6:00 am, which isn’t as bad as it sounds since we were still operating on Eastern Daylight Time, which is two hours ahead. I liked him right away, as he managed to project both experienced professionalism and keen enthusiasm during our initial meeting, and his knowledge quickly became apparent during our time together.
After breakfast Doran and I walked down to the beach. To get there we had to pass by the small group of mango trees, cross an open lawn, and descend a few Palm-shaded stairs before emerging onto the sand. There was a wide swath of sand exposed by the low tide, and a large crust of rocks protruding from the water that reminded me that the geological history of Central America is very different from that of eastern North America. The land bridge connecting North and South America – which includes Costa Rica and Panama – didn’t exist until about three million years ago. Costa Rica was formed when the movement of the western edge of the Caribbean plate forced the Cocos plate beneath what is now the Pacific Ocean to slide beneath it, creating a subduction zone which birthed a number of volcanoes. The relentless grinding of the Caribbean plate over the Cocos plate and the numerous volcanic eruptions over the millennia caused the land mass to grow, resulting in a today’s mountainous west coast with its steep cliffs overlooking rocky tidal lagoons.
Costa Rica operates on Central Standard Time. Being so close to the equator, however, it receives roughly 12 hours of daylight throughout the year; as such, it has no need for Daylight Saving Time, and doesn’t reset its clocks twice a year. This is quite unlike Ottawa, which fluctuates from about 8 hours of daylight at the December solstice to just under 16 hours at the June solstice. It was light enough to go birding around 5:30 am, and started getting dark around 6:30 pm. Costa Rica was two hours behind Ottawa time during our trip, and as a result of the time change, we were up earlier than usual. This made time seem to slow down, for the days seemed much longer, with plenty of hours to fill.
With my sleep issues I still woke up at my usual time each day, which meant I was wide awake by 3:30 or 4:00 am and couldn’t fall back asleep. As soon as it got light I went birding, sneaking out around 5:30 or 6:00 am almost every day we didn’t have any activities planned. We spent our first full day in Costa Rica on the resort, and almost right away I discovered a great birding spot right near our building. Continue reading →
Doran and I arrived in Costa Rica at 12:30pm on Saturday. We’d been planning this trip since February, and it was a thrill when we finally landed in Costa Rica after a 4:00am start that took us first to Toronto, then to Liberia after a five-hour flight down through Florida and across the Caribbean Sea. When we left Ottawa it had been cool and rainy, but the moment we stepped outside of the airport we were engulfed by the heat and humidity of the tropics. Although the humidity of the 30°C days seemed unbearable at first, we grew used to it by the end of the week – although any sort of exertion (such as hiking up the slopes of the volcanoes in the rainforest) was uncomfortably sticky. Still, we were thankful for the air-conditioning of the van that drove us to our resort, the Occidental Papagayo located on the Gulf of Papagayo in Guanacaste, about a 25-minute drive from the airport.