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 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.
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.
Our last two days on Cozumel were quiet ones. On Thursday we rented a scooter for a couple of hours and drove up to the trails on the northwestern corner of the island where Arturo had taken us a few days earlier. We stopped in at the country club briefly to check out the pond, and at first I didn’t think there were any birds at all – the egret and the Black-necked Stilts were gone. A careful scan of the far shore eventually revealed two birds there – an American Coot and a Common Gallinule, both of which can be seen in Ottawa, but were new for my Mexico list.
We arrived at the trails at 10:30 am. Although they had been very “birdy” on Tuesday at 7:30 am, they were much quieter on Thursday at 10:00 am. We drove to the shore and looked for shorebirds first. A pair of Spotted Sandpipers were running along the beach, while further along the shore we saw a large group of Sanderlings. I spotted a waterthrush lurking in the vegetation at the edge of the beach, but it disappeared before I could get a photo of it to confirm whether it was a Northern Waterthrush or a Louisiana – the latter would have been a life bird for me.
After leaving the Visitor Center we headed to the Anhinga Trail because I’d heard it was a great spot for both birds and alligators, and because it was close by – the other trails I wanted to see, such as Eco Pond, were an hour’s drive away. As we drove through the park the landscape appeared very flat and grassy; we were only a few feet above sea level. There were some trees scattered about, but overall we didn’t see much wildlife, unless you counted the giant grasshoppers on the road, and the crows and Red-winged Blackbirds foraging along the shoulder – presumably feasting on the road-killed grasshoppers.
By 10:45 we were on our way to Everglades National Park. Our route took us through a large agricultural area west of Homestead; I spotted some distant gulls with black heads in the fields, but couldn’t identify them as they were too far away. I kept an eye on the telephone wires for Loggerhead Shrikes and flycatchers, but saw only doves and grackles. Doran noticed a couple of small birds dive-bombing a larger bird in flight; when he asked what they were doing I said, “It looks like they are attacking some sort of raptor”. To our amazement the birds flew toward us, and passed right overhead, giving me fantastic views of my first Swallow-tailed Kite. It was a large, graceful bird with a white body, pointed white wings outlined in black, and a characteristic forked tail. I asked Doran to pull over but there was no shoulder and we had to drive a bit before we found a small pull-off by a farm road. By the time I got out of my car with my camera the bird was gone.