At last, Saturday arrived. Our last morning in Costa Rica, and our last morning at the beautiful Occidental Grand Papagayo resort. The final hours of our wonderful trip to the tropics were trickling through the hourglass, and I was sad to see it coming to an end. I got up, started packing up as much of my stuff as I could without disturbing Doran, then went out for a quick walk to the red-flowering trees – my favourite bird-watching spot on the resort. I still hadn’t given up on seeing those Squirrel Cuckoos again.
All too soon Friday arrived, and I was finally able to sleep in until 5:00 am instead of waking up at 3:30 am. I was up and birding 45 minutes later, taking pictures of everything I would miss once we returned to Canada – our flight was scheduled to leave at 1:30 pm the following day, and this was our last full day in the country. We hadn’t made any plans or booked any excursions, so I was able to get in a few hours of birding before breakfast. As usual it was humid when I set out, but not too hot yet; I headed out to the spot beneath the red-flowering trees first, curious as to which birds I would find there early in the morning.
Birding wasn’t the only activity we did while we were in Costa Rica. For his excursion Doran chose a full-day outing to Miravalles Volcano, which included an 11-line zip-line down the volcano’s slope, a horse-back ride, a walk across a hanging bridge to visit Llanos de Cortez waterfall in the rainforest, and a visit to an active crater for a mud bath and a dip in the hot springs. Our meeting time was 7:30, which gave us a chance to sleep in after the previous day’s 12-hour birding extravaganza. We met Larry just outside the resort gate along with five other guests, a family of three and a couple on their honeymoon. We bundled into the van – the same type we had driven around in with Ollie – for the hour’s drive to Miravalles Volcano near Bagaces.
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 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 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.