When the calendar reached Saturday morning, March 30th, it was time to saddle up, think about thousands of bird calls, and head on over the mountains to Tirimbina! That day being the day before Easter and one of Costa Rica’s major holiday weekends, we saw droves of vehicles at the Waterfall Gardens and a major gathering of humans at the Peace Waterfall.
As we drove down towards the lowlands, we wondered if this would dampen our chances at Torrent Tyrannulet, and even more importantly, cause time devouring traffic jams on our route! In a last attempt at scouting Varablanca and Cinchona, we road with the windows down and listened for birds. Since it was mid-afternoon and sunny, this was kind of pointless but no one can say that we didn’t give it an all-star, Shaolin try. Despite few birds being heard, we did notice that a few trees were fruiting near Cinchona and that was indeed an important find.
A good spot near Cinchona.
Down at Tirimbina, we checked in and after being told that we had to tell reception when we entered and left the forest, headed out onto our main scouting road. I suspect that the guy at reception thought it strange that we weren’t going into the forest but we had places to scout, a Big Day ahead of us and not time to explain. Since we couldn’t stay at the field station as hoped (only opens for large groups), the big question was where to be at the break of dawn. It was a toss-up between the forest proper and the road back by the field station but despite the road looking promising on Google Earth, we had yet to recon it.
We crossed the Pozo Azul bridge and started back on the road behind Tirimbina. It was a bumpy ride and the section up to the field station looked OK but not good enough for a forest dawn chorus. However, there was a fair deal more of forest back by the field station and further on so we continued forward. A brief stop by a lowland pond turned up a valuable species right away- Sungrebe!
A poor image of a Sungrebe but still identifiable.
As we pleaded with the Sungrebe to be there the next day, we scoured the wetland for Agami Heron and other goodies to no avail. Forest looked good there though so we would have to hit it in the morning. Further up the road, a tell-tale bump high on a tree turned out to be another much wanted species for the day- Great Potoo!
My camera refused to focus on the tell-tale bump but I can at least show what the site looked like.
Yippee! Hopefully the Potoo would stay, the Sungrebe would show, and every bird would sing because we decided to be near the Potoo at dawn. Continuing on, we also had good looks over forested hills, saw a perched King Vulture, were entertained by lots of Mealy and Red-lored Parrots flying to roosts, and saw a small marsh. Yep, this was the road to take for the morning.
Back on the highway, we enjoyed an early dinner at the Rancho Magallanes restaurant and headed back to Tirimbina to try and sleep by some crazy early hour like 7:30 or 8 PM.
When the clock struck midnight, the counting time began! Too bad nothing was calling… and I slept on until wake up call at 3.
Unfortunately, there was a light but steady rain and that erased any chances of hearing nocturnal migrants, owls, or nightjars. Nevertheless, we stuck to the plan and drove through the night to a rice field and wetlands located in banana fields well north of La Selva. As we arrived, something about the field looked strange and then it slowly dawned upon us that the rice was no longer there. Not only that, but the wetlands were no longer there either. One of the only large accessible wetland sites in that area and it had been drained. We were so shocked we could hardly talk. Back in December, we had briefly visited the place and found dozens of Purple Gallinules and great habitat for rails and other aquatic species. Although it was hard to determine in the dark of the night, we could see the drainage ditches and saw that palms had been planted- either Oil or Heart of Palm. Goodbye wetland. So long Purple Gallinules, Paint-billed Crakes, and who knows what else. Although much of it was farmland, some wasn’t so I suspect they broke some laws there.
With heavy hearts, we decided to try for Barn Owl and Striped Owl anyways but no luck there, just the forlorn calls of a few Common Pauraques to echo our sentiments and mark their eminent place as the first bird of the day.
With the rain coming down, we drove back to our scouting road and picked up our next two species at the bridge over the Sarapiqui- Bare-throated Tiger Heron and Boat-billed Heron doing some night fishing in the river! Good ones to get and somewhere around then, we heard givens like Clay-colored Thrush and Tropical Kingbird.
Boat-billed Heron- the neotropical gargoyle.
Checking the small marsh turned up White-throated Crake but no other rails so we continued on to the Great Potoo stakeout. Dawn was arriving and yes (!), the potoo was on its spot. We quickly picked up a bunch of species as they sounded off from nearby patches of forest and fields. These were birds like Cocoa, Black-striped, Northern Barred, and Streak-headed Woodcreepers, White-whiskered Puffbird, Broad-billed and Rufous Motmots, Bright-rumped Attila, Rufous Mourner, Dusky-capped Flycatcher, Buff-rumped Warbler, and much more. Luckily, the rain had given us a break at that time or we would have been sunk into the depths of a very low list for the day.
Susan scoping out our Potoo.
We slowly moved up the road, picking up several targets on the way, many of which were fairly common species like Red-throated Ant-Tanager, Green Honeycreeper, Shining Honeycreeper, toucans, Rufous-winged Woodpecker, and various parrots and parakeets (but no Great Green Macaws!). At the Sungrebe spot, despite some very careful checking below overhanging vegetation, the weird little rail duck didn’t show. As consolation, we saw 4 Green Ibis though.
It was interesting to be reminded of how common Dusky-capped Flycatchers are. We heard them at just about every humid forest spot throughout the day.
The rain picked up again and as the road turned very slick in a bad way, we crawled along and dearly hoped to make it to the field station. Despite some very tense minutes, we made it to the rocky road at the station and got out of the car to stretch and hopefully pick up some deep forest birds. However, by this time, our luck was kind of running out as the rain picked up and drowned out most bird activity. We still managed Violet-headed Hummingbird, Great Tinamou, Wood Thrush, Black-capped Pygmy-Tyrant, and a few other species but results were dampened by the rain and much lower than hoped.
Yeah for the Violet-headed Hummingbird!
As time ran out and the light but steady rain continued, we moved on towards the highway, picking up Chestnut-headed Oropendola, Yellow Tyrannulet, and some other goodies. It was 8:30 and the time had come to head up to Virgen del Socorro despite still missing 20-30 hoped for species out of around 120 species so far. How would those higher elevations and the Pacific slope treat us? Stay tuned for part tres!