February 16, 2005 [LINK]

"Backyard" bird watching

As everyone knows (or should know), Central America is the "backyard" of the good ol' U.S.A. So, when you go bird watching down here, you are in effect doing "backyard" bird watching. smile Today Jacqueline and I splurged on a "package tour," something I have rarely if ever done before. The prime birding and nature hot spots in Costa Rica are in very remote places, so I figured it would be better to start off with a guide. I almost regretted my decision after our first stop, the Poas volcano, about 25 miles NW of San Jose. It is one of a chain of volcanoes anchoring a mountain range that stretches across the middle of the country, from northwest to southeast. The higher elevations are a "cloud forest," which means that it is almost always raining or drizzling or misting. I was prepared with a proper jacket and umbrella, but the clouds and precipitation reduced visibility so much that we couldn't see anything inside the crater, which is supposed to be the second biggest one in the world. Fortunately, I saw a number of good birds, including some Sooty-capped bush tanagers, a Sooty-faced finch, a Black-cowled oriole, a Scarlet-thighed dacnis, among others. All those birds made it a worthwhile stop after all.

The we went to La Paz Waterfall, located on the eastern slope of Poas volcano. It includes an enclosed butterfly sanctuary, where we saw hundreds of chrysalises and/or cocoons. We actually saw an exotic butterfly emerge and take flight for the very first time in its life! But for me the biggest thrill was the hummingbird center, where dozens of feeders attracted a constant stream of so many different species of hummingbirds that there was no way I could hope to identify most of them. Actually, though, there was a way: our Canon DV camera! I tried my best to get as many of those tiny speedsters on tape as I could, and after further review, I would say I can probably identify at least six or seven species, maybe more. By far the best was the large Violet saber-wing. A German couple was blocking my camera angle for crucial minutes, and I almost despaired of one of the greatest bird photo-ops ever. At last, they moved, and I got some great shots. But wait, there's more! While at La Paz we also saw several Rose-breasted grosbeaks, Silver-throated tanagers (not well named, as you will soon see from the photos I took), Tennessee warblers, and others not yet identified. Finally, we walked along a precarious set of steel grate walkways to see the La Paz Waterfalls, which are awesome. The cloud forest foliage was just too thick to get good views of the many birds I heard and glimpsed.

Our final stop of the day was the Doka Estate coffee plantation, in the foothills between Poas volcano and San Jose. Just before we arrived there I spotted some kind of a hawk along the road. It was a pleasant and informative tour of the farm, the coffee bean sorting equipment, and the roasting mill. It is a modern monoculture plantation, however, which means that it is not good habitat for songbirds. Also, shade-grown coffee is better quality than coffee from trees grown in open fields, and I bought a bag of organic shade-grown coffee. Finally our tour bus brought us back to Kap's Place in San Jose. Another busy, exhausting, extremely rewarding day!

Tomorrow we may take a bus/boat trip to the Caribbean coast, or perhaps head south to the Pacific beaches. Maybe we can squeeze both in!