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Birding Costa Rica Introduction

My Favorite Rain Forest for birding Costa Rica

Costa Rica has made a name for itself with its National Parks and protected areas. Monteverde combines beautiful cloud forest with excellent tourist infrastructure. Carara offers exceptional birding at the junction of humid and dry ecosystems. The Pacific beaches of Manuel Antonio are set against a rain forest backdrop. Wild and rough Braulio Carrillo, though, is my favorite. I admit I could be biased because this was the first place I experienced rain forest. The first place a White-necked Jacobin appeared out of the jade green surroundings to hover in front of my face. The first time I saw a White Hawk and a King Vulture; breathtaking neotropical bird species.

In addition to exciting birding in fantastic primary rain forest on every visit, I might also be biased because I could get there so easily; less than an hour from San Jose on any morning bus to Guapiles. Like most rain forest birding, some days are slower than others, you can easily get rained out for the entire day, and seeing the birds can be a serious challenge. Although I sometimes feel that the birding was better in the past (I used to see more Tinamous and Quail Doves), its still my favorite spot as well as my birding patch here in Costa Rica.

The 500 meter elevation of this very wet, Caribbean slope forest ensures a good mix of lowland and foothill species. Some of the forest dependent species that have become rare at La Selva still regularly occur at Quebrada Gonzalez such as:

Ornate Hawk Eagle

King Vulture

White-whiskered Puffbird

Antwrens and Antvireos

Tawny-faced Gnatwren

Ruddy-tailed and Sulphur-rumped Flycatchers

The place is especially good for large mixed flocks led by White-throated Shrike Tanager.

While I took pics of this male, the surrounding vegetation resounded with the calls of various Tanager species, Woodcreepers, Russet Antshrike, Scarlet-rumped Caciques and others.

On my last visit, I got some lucky shots of this juvenile Ornate Hawk Eagle.

and here this formidable predator looks like it is about to attack! In the Amazon, these guys are one of the main predators of Squirrel Monkeys and Macaws. A friend of mine saw one catch a Curassow- same size as a Turkey.

Quebrada Gonzalez is probably one of the easiest places in Costa Rica (and elsewhere) to see this spectacular raptor. Ornates are often seen in flight from the parking lot on sunny days from 10 AM to 12 noon.

My patch is also one of the best sites to see Black-crowned Antpitta. Well, to be honest, they occur here but are very difficult to actually see. While this male sang, a Little (Stripe-throated) Hermit buzzed around in front of the Antpittas face. It acted as if the Antpitta was a threat!

Green Hermits are the most common hummingbirds here.

I often see White-faced Capuchins, Spider Monkeys and other animals such as this diabolical looking Collared Peccary.

One rainy day, this Northern Tamandua was hanging out next to the ranger station.

I always usually see some cool lizards.

There are two trails; a well maintained 1 k. loop trail behind the ranger station and two longer loop trails across the highway that lead down to the river. The one behind the station is easiest, the trails across the highway sometimes blocked by fallen trees. They are open from 8 AM until 4:30 PM and cost $8 for non-residents, $2 for residents.

Quebrada Gonzalez is found along the highway from San Jose to Guapiles about 4 ks after the bridge over the Rio Sucio. By bus, take any bus to Guapiles from the Caribeños bus station and tell the driver to let you off at Quebrada Gonzalez. To get back to San Jose, flag down any passing bus; some stop, most don’t.

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Costa Rica living Introduction

Giving birth in Costa Rica part two

After a bit of exhausted sleep, I went to my mother in laws for breakfast. One of the best things about Costa Rican mornings is the coffee. On the morning of August 9th (day one for Miranda), that fresh brew hailing from nearby volcanic fields hit the spot like a sunbeam in a November prison. Coffee, fresh bread, emergency room tales and anxious to see my wife and daughter; that was how I spent Mirandas first morning.

 

Ari called around noon to let me know she was alright and that she actually had a bed which meant that we could visit. After making plans to go to the hospital during visitor hours (4 to 7) with Ari’s mom, I went back to our place and finally packed the bag for my wife I’d been meaning to put together for days. Around 4, we headed back to the hospital to at last see Ari and Miranda. We told the security guards who we wanted to visit visit and were promptly told that we needed a visiting pass. The main glitch here was that the window for visiting passes was closed during visiting hours. That’s right, we needed to ask for our pass outside of visiting hours. Nor could I bring up anything for Ari. No, she wasn’t allowed any clothes. Ok, they could make an exception for the baby but nothing else! I was frankly losing my patience to say the least. Nearly 16 hours had passed since her birth and I had yet to see my child. The only reason I knew that my wife was OK was because she called me on borrowed cell phones. And they were telling me that I couldn’t see her because I failed to get a visitor’s pass during non-visiting hours. I realize its best to laugh at such silly times but the chuckles were a bit hard to come by. No, I was feeling rather like the active volcanos that make up a fair part of Costa Rica’s landscape. I somehow managed to act like most Costa Rican volcanos though and quietly let off steam instead of erupting in seismic fury.

 

Fortunately, my mother in law knew how to deal with the system and put her “strong character” to use. She basically let the gaurds know that she was going to drive them crazy with verbal fury until they allowed us entrance. Neither guard had the will to withstand such an onslaught so they gave in but would not budge on the clothing issue. So, we took turns staying below with Ari’s clothes while the other went up to visit.

Finally, 16 plus hours after Miranda was born, about 24 hours since I had last seen Ari, I got to see them both. The ocean’s wave of relief washed away all fears and I was at peace to see that Ari and Miranda were fine (thank God). Miranda was (and still is) beautiful and precious as all children are. We enjoyed our reunion along with our new addition and then Ari told me what happened up there behind the scenes of the Costa Rican hospital system.

 

This is the inside scoop:

“They were doing the fetal monitoring test when someone, I don’t know if she was a nurse or doctor, said, “Oops, I just broke your water”. No, it didn’t break on its own, she ended up accidentally breaking the membrane and so that’s why they kept me in the hospital. They gave me drugs to quicken the birth, to dilate me further but that seemed to be going pretty slow. In the meantime, I saw Karen. She was in a lot of pain and I tried to comfort her although there wasn’t a lot I could do. I am sure it was at least nice for her to have someone near whom she knew. I wasn’t in any pain at all. In fact, I couldn’t even feel the contractions. The only problem was that the baby wasn’t ready to come out. Sometime after about 6 centimeters of dilation, the staff told me that I had “meconized water” and seemed to be pretty anxious but refused to tell me anything other than that they were going to perform a C-section. No, they didn’t tell me why. Before that happened, one nurse even wanted to take away my monitor because she said I was assigned to another hospital and didn’t belong in Calderon Guardia. Luckily, a doctor refused to let anyone remove the monitor. I didn’t feel much of anything during the procedure and noone even bothered to tell me whether Miranda was alive or dead until I got to see her today. I got to hear all of the hospital gossip though. I don’t know where my clothes are, I thought they had given them to you. You should see it up here. The nurse in charge is like a sargeant. She told all of us; “Listen up mothers! No one leaves until they breast feed and change their baby!” You had a C-section? You can’t leave until you can show me that you can walk!”

Fortunately, Ari complied with all orders and was honorably discharged the following day along with our daughter Miranda. I saw the nurse she was talking about. If you have seen “One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest” or Pink Floyd’s “The Wall”, then you have seen her too. That nurse looked so disgruntled and sour, I’m surprised her mere presence didn’t curdle the very milk those babies had to drink. When Miranda cries for no apparent reason, maybe she is thinking of her.

 

We made it home safe and sound and despite almost having to return to the hospital after Ari’s Mom accidentally slammed Ari’s thumb in the car door, everything turned out fine. Later on, our pediatrician explained to us why Ari had the C-section. Ari’s water had broke, she hadn’t dilated much and Miranda had defecated in-utero; a delicate matter where the baby can choke on his or her own fecal matter. He also told us that the anaesthesia had affected Miranda a bit too because they had to give her oxygen.

  

Although everything turned out fine, the next time, I think we will look into private clinics.

 

 

Here’s Miranda!

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Costa Rica living Introduction

Giving Birth in Costa Rica part one

“Miranda isn’t moving, I’m worried. If we don’t check this out, I won’t be able to sleep”, said my wife Ariadna on the beautiful Saturday morning of August 8, 2008.

Not wishing sleeplessness upon anyone, my wife least of all, I acquiesced to her desires and accompanied her to our doctor. Once again we waited to be attended and watched “Casos de La Vida Real” (“Cases from Real Life”) with the secretary accompanied by her commentary: “Oh no!”, “Just incredible”, “Can you believe some people?”, “You have to thank God that hasn’t happened to us!”.

Shortly after entrance into his office,the doctor alleviated our fears with an ultra sound that revealed Miranda doing the usual baby acrobatics inside the womb. He explained that Ari couldn’t feel Miranda’s movements because she was having contractions! Contractions are normal during the final stages of pregnancy so that was pretty expected. What was unexpected, though, was that Ari couldn’t feel the contractions. So, just to be sure, our doctor sent us to a colleague of his at Calderon Guardia hospital for some sort of fetal monitoring test. After cabbing it directly to the emergency room, Ari was allowed entrance straightaway. I had to stay and give the proper paperwork to the admissions people. Luckily, I spoke enough Spanish to give them the information they needed. Although some of the information wasn’t very useful, as in all things bureaucratic, what mattered most was that the paperwork was filled out. For example, they refused to accept our phone numbers because they were cell phones; we might change them. Never mind that we don’t have a land line. I eventually gave them the land line number for my mother in laws house. Too bad I didn’t give them a number in the States just for fun. In retrospect, its too bad the paperwork didn’t take longer because once it was finished there was nothing left to do but wait and wait and wait and wonder what was happening.

After about an hour of emergency room limbo, Ari called me. She said, “The hospital won’t let me leave. My water broke”. Since we were in the final month of pregnancy, I really shoudn’t have been surprised. I was though. I was downright taken aback. I mean we had to go shopping, I had to ready our place more for Mirandas arrival, I had to make a pizza dough; I wanted to eat pizza later that day! I realize this sounds trivial, but if you know what good pizza is, and have tried pizza in Costa Rica, you can probably surmise the importance of the situation. Nevertheless, I managed to brush those thoughts aside, get a hold of myself and then called my mother in law to let her know what was happening.

I stayed at the emergency room and waited and waited and waited and observed and learned how to play games on my phone. I also learned that some people lived in the emergency room; a feat easy to accomplish with its permanently open, welcoming doors, general chaos and gaurds only concerned with the door that opened to the bowels of the hospital itself. One of the emergency room inhabitants was an old woman named Julia. I know this because every once once in a while a moustached guard called her by name to tell her to leave, that the emergency room wasn’t a hotel, that he was going to call the police and most importantly that they were going to bring her to the shelter. He told us emergency roomers that Julia feared the shelter more than anything.That she hid herself nearby so they couldn’t take her away from the emergency room. She certainly didn’t look well, especially when she hacked up onto the emergency room floor, but I guess that wasn’t enough to admit her.

At least she wasn’t drunk. At least I don’t think she was drunk. She was pretty obstinate though; trying to evict others from her row of plastic seats. Not to worry that she wasn’t enibriated, that role was filled by a few other guys who either attempted to sleep or stumbled around the emergency room drooling on themselves. One ridiculously drunk fellow in loose camo pants was drawn towards any cop that showed up. He would somehow make it to his feet and drunkenly walk over to the police. We all hoped they would arrest him. They had better things to do though because they just ignored him. Miraculously he didn’t vomit; a spectacle that doubtless occurs on other days.

These emergency roomers were at least quiet; the vociferous one was a fierce-eyed woman with a foot tall afro who paced back and forth at the entrance, ranting about lawers and her kids. What a nice welcoming committee for those in distress; after making it past the ranter at the door, you have to avoid getting puked on by some drooling drunk, to then battle it out with Julia for a seat. It was no wonder that so many chose to wait outside, me included. As night rapidly approached, I watched the bats emerge from the nearby Parque España and waited for news.

After nightfall, the cops showed up a few times. Not for Julia, not for any sort of disturbance. No, they showed up with prisoners handcuffed and all and waited along with the rest of us. There were three prisoners total; they all looked like they had been drunk and fighting. One guy had gotten it fairly bad in the face. His girlfriend arrived and couldn’t believe what had happened; “Jose wouldn’t do that. He doesn’t get in fights!” Well he did on the night of August 8th. Heck, he even got arrested for it.

It was after dark as well when a couple of families got the worst news one can get. Right in front of everybody, they found out that their father or grandfather or whoever was dear to them had passed away. One poor 20 something was taking it pretty hard. He just kept saying over and over, between sobs, “It can’t be! It can’t be! It just can’t be!” while the ranter paced back and forth screaming about those damn lawyers and kids.  

I think it was around 9 P.M. when I saw a familiar face. It was Esteban!; the guy half of a couple we had became friends with during our pre-marriage course. And the other half, his wife Karin, was upstairs in labor. Esteban told me that she had been in labor for several hours and had 7 centimeters, meaning 7 centimeters dilation. It seemed like that was all he could say, “7 centimeters. Shes got 7 centimeters so its got to be soon. With 7 centimeters its got to be any time now.” I told him I had no idea what was happening with Ari but that supposedly someone would let us know. And not long after, he was called to go into the delivery room which meant that the birth of Isaac, their first son, was imminent. Fathers or whoever accompanies the soon to be mother, are only allowed into the delivery room for the final stages of labor. They literally tell you to hurry up so as to not miss out on the birthing.

It was easy to pick out the fathers in waiting; lone guys with a bag in hand, looking anxious, talking to no one; they didn’t want to miss getting called up to the delivery room. Esteban came back down after an hour; Karen hadn’t given birth yet, looked like it was going to be longer. I don’t know why he just didn’t stay up there. Maybe they kicked him out. In any case, just after midnight, a doctor came looking for me. Alright! I was ready to head on upstairs and be there for Ariadna! And then she gave me a case of the worries when she handed me a bag with Ari’s personal belongings and said that Ari was to have a C-section and that someone would let me know how things turned out. Yeah right! The only person who let me know was Ari herself! She actually collect called me right after surgery with a borrowed phone! She told me that she was fine but hadn’t seen Miranda yet. Someone else then hopped on the phone and asked me where I was so they could let me in. He let the guard know, I was allowed in and found my own way to the birthing area. A nurse came out looking for “the father of the c-section” and let me know that Ari was fine but I couldn’t see her until they had room in the maternity ward.

Apparently the hospital was filled to capacity and until a bed was available, Ari had to stay in the recovery room; off-limits to visitors. He did say, however, that someone would be right out with my daughter. I waited once again with a few other fathers. We took turns sitting in a wheel chair. We tried to stay awake. We laughed about nonsense because we were over-exhausted. We talked about the guy who left the emergency room with a light head wound; blood all over his shirt. He was mugged outside the San Pedro mall and barely escaped with his life (BTY:IF YOU GO TO THE SAN PEDRO MALL AT NIGHT, BETTER TO BRING A MACHINE GUN). One guy had been waiting for almost two days and actually missed the delivery of his son because they never called him in. He at least got to see his son sometime that night. Esteban also missed the birth of Isaak because he had gone downstairs and they didn’t want to let him back in. I actually got to see Isaak before he did! I think fathers missed the delivery of their kids because the place was so busy; something like a birth every ten minutes. So, after waiting to see Miranda until 3 A.M. without any hint at success, I decided to go home and see them both the next day.

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Birding Costa Rica Costa Rica living

Yiguirro: The national bird of Costa Rica

Many places have a Thrush species that has become adapted to living around people. In much of North America, American Robins are as synonymous with front lawns as sprinklers.  Europeans have the Blackbird; immortalized in song by the Beatles and in prose by Shakespeare. In Costa Rica, Ticos chose the Clay-colored Robin (Turdus grayi) for their national bird. Opting for familiarity over splendor, it trumped spectacular species such as Resplendant Quetzal and Scarlet Macaw as well as undeniably cool birds like the Harpy Eagle. Clay Coloreds are THE garden bird of Costa Rica. Found from lowlands to cloud forest (where it gets replaced by the Mountain Robin), they sing a lot like their northern counterparts but are shyer; their presence usually revealed by their querelous, meow-like call. As their name suggests, Clay-colored Robins are also less colorful. My wife even goes as far as to call them downright ugly. These Yiguirros were at the Cinchona feeders. I think they look OK; judge for yourselves if you agree with my wife.

 

Monster Clay Colored Robin

 

Note the yellowish bill- field mark to separate it from Mountain and Pale-vented Robins.

 

More pics of the same bird; a juvenile molting in its head feathers.

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About the author

About Pat O’Donnell

Hailing from Niagara Falls, NY, USA, I have been birding since the age of 7. Ever since, studying and observing birds have played a very important role in my life. After several visits to Costa Rica since 1992, I ended up moving to this beautiful and biodiverse country in 2007. I write about birds at this blog and elsewhere and work on birding apps and books. I also love helping others see birds and is why I help in organizing trips for visiting birders as well as guide them. Want to see more birds in Costa Rica? Contact me at information@birdingcraft.com.