Sunday, April 07, 2013

Costa Rica - the first Sunday morning

Costa Rica.  0.03% of the world's land mass, 5% of its biodiversity.  Democratic, Spanish-speaking, and with no army since the 1940s.  Part of the fly-way between South America and North America, and with two seasons, wet and dry.  25% of the land is set aside for nature!  We've been looking forward to this holiday for ages, in fact we'd planned it for 2011 but ended up going to Uganda when I couldn't get 'reward' seats.  This time we did secure the seats though had to extend the holiday to 16 nights to get back again.

When you open the bird field guide it's jaw-dropping.  Page after page of species for which we just have one, like Wren or Wood-Creeper.  It turns out the guide is mostly correct in terms of species (they omit 3 endemics from the Cocos Islands) but with lots of range and illustrative errors, this made some ID work very tricky and we regularly had to turn to local experts for help with ID where the guide was ambiguous or unhelpful.  Surely there's an opportunity to improve the guide or publish an accurate one?

We set off early morning with the drive to Heathrow for our initial flight to Madrid and from there to San Jose.  We flew Iberia in Business Plus using miles from my work travels.  Their European business class is ok, though cramped, transatlantic has tons of space but poorly designed seats and the food was shoddy for vegetarians.  I also found the booze to be not what I expected from a Spanish airline.  Still I got squiffy enough to get a good 6 hours sleep on the way to San Jose (11 hours).

We landed and were through immigration soon enough.  Then a long wait for collection by our Rental Car company (Europcar) followed by the most amazingly tedious rental process I have thus far experienced.  We were on the bus with another couple, he hustled out and to the desk.  We got our Toyota Rav 4 an hour later (a couple told us later that it had taken them fully two hours to get theirs with a different company, so it's obviously a Costa Rica thing!).   The car being 4x4 was an essential ingredient, we needed the rigour and strength of the vehicle on almost every trip.  A final preparation point, you have to get a Sat Nav and a map.  Costa Rica doesn't use road names and navigation is very tricky sometimes even with both the Nav and the Map...

As our flight had been moved later we needed to arrange a hotel night in San Jose, research suggested that driving at night was hazardous due to aggressive and dangerous driving (true), poor road markings (true) and very poor road quality (less so - we saw lots of freshly tarmaced roads, even in quite remote places), so a three hour drive starting at 10:30pm seemed a bad idea.

The hotel we picked, La Rosa de America in Alajuela, was very pleasant and, after a brief night's sleep, we awoke to an amazingly loud and different dawn chorus.

I couldn't get out of the room quick enough, though it does take time, so by the time I did emerge the birds right over our little cabin had moved but we still got to see a good number of birds and to meet a number of other visitors, all up-and-about at 05:45 too.

The national bird of Costa Rica, is this drab looking Clay-coloured Robin:


Primarily not doubt due to it being everywhere and singing ahead of the rainy season.  It looks and sounds strikingly like our Blackbird (until it starts sounding like a Catbird that is).

Other birds in the grounds included a Yellow Warbler:


Red-lored Parrot:



We also identified Great Kiskadee, Mourning Dove, Rufous-rumped Wren, Great-tailed Grackle, White-winged Dove, Inca Dove, Tropical Kingbird, Turkey Vulture and Blue-crowned Motmot.  Not bad before breakfast in a smallish city centre garden.  Our US birding experience really helped as well, as some birds were instantly familiar.

We've heard the Bougainvillea has more extensive gardens and is also a good stopping point after the trip.  Next time...

We wolfed down breakfast, paid-up and headed out, next stop Monteverde!  The drive was fine and in places picturesque:


On arrival in the Monteverde area we decided to have lunch at Stella's Bakery, which is recommended as a good spot for birding.  They have fruit on a table and humming bird feeders and we weren't disappointed.   The service is good, the food is great and the coffee is really good.  We enjoyed all this together with some of the birds dropping in, such as the Blue-Gray Tanager:


Buff-throated Saltator:


Emerald Toucanet (I really wanted to see one of these!):




Red-legged Honeycreeper:


And Yellow-throated Euphonia:




As well as the birds (we added a few Hummingbird species here), a Raccoon was keen on some of the fruit too:


Outside Stella's there's a small square surrounded by trees.  These proved productive too, I particularly liked this Golden-browed Clorophonia:



Social Flycatcher:


And many others!

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