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Birding Costa Rica central valley common birds Costa Rica living

New house = new yard list of Costa Rican birds

After hectic times in December and January that included bus trips to Panama for a wedding in the middle of nowhere, getting passports for Miranda, and flying to snowy Niagara Falls (with Miranda suffering from the stomach flu on the way home as a bonus), we FINALLY moved into our new house. It’s near Alajuela in sunny Santa Barbara and most importantly, is closer to green space.

With the house at the edge of town and thus closer to coffee farms and patchy forest, I expect to get a nice house list going (I can’t truly call it a yard list because I am going to count whatever I hear or see from the house). Since we have a a pretty broad vista of the surrounding countryside, I hope the neighbors won’t mind too much when they see me looking out the window with binoculars as I try to identify some distant raptor, or using a scope to check out an interesting looking silhouette perched atop a distant tree.

Of course I started keeping track of birds as soon as I stepped off of the moving truck. Although I can’t recall what the first species was, here’s the list as of today (which also represents common birds in Costa Rica that one can expect):

Cattle Egret- As in most places in Costa Rica where there is some open areas, at least a few flyby each morning and evening.

Black Vulture- I have seen very few of this common species.

Turkey Vulture- Haven’t seen too many of these either.

Black-shouldered Kite- One appears to have taken up residence in the neighborhood. I sometimes see it in flight (looks like a gull except when it hovers) or perched at the top of a nearby Porro tree (Erythina sp.) with brilliant orange flowers.

Short-tailed Hawk- A pair of this common raptor appear to use the ravine.

Crested Caracara- I was kind of surprised to see one fly over.

Gray-necked Wood Rail- Heard a pair the other morning calling from a ravine across the road.

Red-billed Pigeon- No Rock Pigeons around here! These fat looking birds call from telephone wires and tree tops.

White-winged Dove- Actually far fewer than I had expected.

Inca Dove- Not too many of these either.

Common Ground Dove- Seems to be a few of these around.

White-tipped Dove- I have been hearing them call from the nearby coffee farms.

Crimson-fronted Parakeet- Just a few flyovers each day.

Blue and White Swallow- One of the most common birds here. There always seems to be a few in view or heard giving their scratchy vocalizations overhead.

Rufous-tailed Hummingbird- I need to birdify the backyard to attract these and other hummingbirds.

Blue-crowned Motmot- I have heard one giving its double hoot from the ravine.

Hoffman’s Woodpecker- Very few around here.

Yellow-bellied Elaenia- I have heard a pair singing somewhere in the vicinity.

Great Kiskadee- A few of these personable flycatchers are around.

Boat-billed Flycatcher- A pair live in the ravine.

Social Flycatcher- I have heard a few.

Tropical Kingbird- Of course there are some of these guys around.

Brown Jay- A noisy flock moves through some nearby tall trees every morning and afternoon.

House Wren- Oh yeah, they live in Costa Rica and look and sound a lot like ones in North America.

Plain Wren- I hear these every day. Plain Wrens love coffee farms so much that they should be renamed the “Coffee Wren”.

Clay-colored Robin- Several of these around.

Tennessee Warbler- I have had a few.

Rufous-capped Warbler- Pretty common in the coffee farms.

Blue-gray Tanager- A few are around.

Flame-colored Tanager- I heard one calling yesterday from the ravine.

Montezuma Oropendola- There have been single flyovers and today I saw a veritable flock moving through the flowering Porro trees.

Great-tailed Grackle- Just a few (must be too far from the town plaza where they typically congregate).

Bronzed Cowbird- A few flybys. If you see some birds in flight that resemble winter finches, they are Bronzed Cowbirds.

Baltimore Oriole- A few are around.

Rufous-collared Sparrow- One of the most common bird species.

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Costa Rica living earthquakes Introduction

Earthquake January 8, 2009

The upsides of living in a seismically active country are the hot springs and I suppose visiting active volcanoes. The downside is of course the possibility of having your house collapse onto your head or other nasty effects caused by an EARTHQUAKE.

Costa Rica has more fault lines criss-crossing its territory than cracks in a broken sidewalk. At least a few of these fault lines are always up to something; their subterranean movements shaking the ground when you least expect it. Yesterday, some chunk of a tectonic plate moved enough to cause a small earthquake (here called a temblor). It was a gentle shaking back and forth and hardly anyone took notice. Apparently though, that fault line was just getting warmed up for today, stretching a bit before jumping awake with the 6.2 earthquake that occurred around 2 P.M.

My wife and I had just got back from bringing my parents to the airport. I haven’t had a chance to speak with them yet because the phones didn’t work for an hour after the quake. At least their flight was able to leave after a bit of a delay. I was in the very middle of making lunch; chicken patties and plantains in the electric skillet, refried beans in the microwave when the ground began to shake strongly. This was no gentle swaying, no friendly temblor. No, this tinkled the cheap chandeliers that came with the apartment, opened the doors, toppled the neighbors pots and pans, and shook the foundations.

After the surprise segwayed into realization, I ran into the bedroom to find my wife on the bed praying over Miranda. Despite living here her whole life, she was so scared that she didn’t know what to do. I got her to her feet, grabbed Miranda and got us to the front door frame. On the way, I distinctly recall seeing the lights going on and off and everything swaying. Once we got to the door, the quake was almost over. We stayed there for a while in case of strong aftershocks but didn’t feel any at that time (I have while writing this though; several temblores of short duration). At the end of the shaking we lost all electricity and cell phone connections. The streets rang with car alarms, a few people standing around outside of their homes. A woman with 4 children was waiting to use a corner phone; her face was smeared with make-up from sobbing. Ari’s mom arrived shortly thereafter and told us she had electricity so we went to her house to have lunch, our half-cooked lunch food on hold in the electric skillet.

We have been watching and listening to the news ever since. Sadly at least two children died, trapped beneath a landslide. For the most part, though, people were just very frightened. My mother-in-law said it was one of the strongest she has ever felt during her whole life here. Windows broke in some of the taller buildings and there was structural damage near the epicenter; San Pedro de Poas. The road near the La Paz waterfall gardens and Cinchona is severely damaged; one guy said it has disappeared in parts. I’m not sure if the birding cafes at Cinchona were affected- hopefully they are still there. In any case, if you hoped to drive down the road from Varablanca to Cinchona, change your plans because that road will not be opened for a while.

editor’s note: The death toll from the Cinchona earthquake ended up being around 50, including some people I knew from the birding cafes. After more than a year later, the road through Cinchona is still officially closed and the town still abandoned.

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Costa Rica Beaches Costa Rica living Costa Rica trips public transportation Introduction

Trip to Tambor (not the Barcelo) by public transportation

“Tambor” means drum. Here in Costa Rica, it  also the name of a very tranquil, family friendly beach. At least that’s what the internet searches say. What they don’t tell you is that it’s almost too quiet. My wife, daughter and I recently made Tambor our first family destination and although we relished the tranquility, we also found ourselves hoping for a bit more. Although the information I found on the net was accurate in some ways, the personal perspective of someone who had traveled there was absent like humor at a funeral. In this post I will paint a detailed picture of a trip to Tambor by public transportation, my words revealing the bright spots and dim corners of the beach of the drum.

We left in the evening, taking a cab through almost 6 P.M. San Jose to the Puntarenas bus station. The streets were congested as always at this hour; not only with vehicles but pedestrians as well- well dressed office workers with their access badges tucked into their shirt pockets, workers sans dress codes always carrying day-packs, a few over-thin drug addicts here and there itching for mental relief, mothers with children, people laughing, talking and wishing they were already home and always the rumble of trucks, a blaring of horns and occasional sonic assaults from radios. Driving through this, you have to keep the doors locked and keep bags away from windows- some people will smash a window to snatch a bag. I feel like a bodyguard whenever we drive through the city- concentrating on my surroundings, ready to react, even more so with my daughter present.

I especially feel that way at the Puntarenas bus station. Located in southern San Jose, it’s not the type of area for night-strolling. Heck, I wouldn’t even feel comfortable during the day. Upon arrival at the station, panhandlers are there to open your door and ask for money. This time I told one grimy fellow that I was going to open the door before he could do it. He backed off right away and ended up being so respectful that I gave him something anyways. Inside the bus station, at least there is an armed guard and things are pretty darn orderly by Latin American standards. Upon purchase of a ticket, you are given a plastic boarding pass then “sit” in line. Yes, you sit in line; not on the floor but in chairs lined up in three rows. Once there you can watch TV or your fellow passengers until boarding (every 40 minutes from 6 until 9 at night for Puntarenas). We ended up heading out into the tropical night on the 6:40 PM bus, trusting our driver to navigate the twists and turns of mountain roads on our way down to the old port city of Puntarenas.

Miranda was good all the way down to the hot lowlands. Good means she didn’t scream for an extended period of time and of course she didn’t because we gave her food when hungry and held her the whole time. A lot of people tell us to not pick her up too much or she will want that all the time, that we will spoil her. I think they are absolutely wrong. I tend to base my perceptions within an evolutionary framework; especially when it comes to basic survival instincts. Regarding baby-carrying, I ask myself what it might have been like for our ancestors in good old dangerous Africa. Did folks casually stroll the savannah with their babies in plastic carriages? What happened to babies that were put down somewhere and didn’t cry? Answers to those are an obvious, “No” and the understatement, “nothing good”. Babies were carried around at all times for the sake of survival. In short, since we evolved to be carried around as babies (and this behavior appears to predate the Homo sapiens species) then it’s probably a darn good idea to continue with this behavior.

After around 2 and a half hours, we arrived in Puntarenas. Puntarenas is located along a promontary that juts into the Pacific. Because of the narrow, stretched out nature of this place, when you think you have arrived, you still have 10 minutes to go before the bus stops. This turned out to be a boon for us because we got the chance to talk with some friendly Canadian surfers who had useful info. about hotels and ferry times. They let us walk with them to the “Hotel Cabezas”. Three blocks north and one east of the terminal, they charged $25 for clean, basic rooms and were very friendly (so much so I had to say it twice). After a short but pleasant night, we cabbed it pre-dawn to the first ferry of the day. Dozens of people were hanging out at the Musmanni bakery where ferry tickets were sold. Most of these people ended up waiting for the following departure because the first one had already filled up with vehicles. After buying $2 tickets, we walked aboard and chugged out into the Gulf of Nicoya at 5 AM sharp.

I was concerned about windy weather making for a rough trip, but thankfully those fears were unfounded. There were very few waves despite a constant breeze strong enough to keep the flags taut and make us wear jackets. Miranda slept on while some 20 year olds drank beer and attempted to sing and “yee-haw” Mexican songs that people always sing when they are drunk (except my father-in-law; he karaokes those ditties sober as a baby). The 20 year olds weren’t about to win American Idol but I’m glad they were having a good time. Sometimes it’s great to see people enjoying life even if they are rending the air and assaulting the ears in the process. We also met a professional clown named, “Jesus”. I know that sounds like dreams after too much guacamole but it is the plain and simple truth. He wasn’t in costume, in fact I took him to be a surfer until we conversed. He was doing a clown gig for the weekend in Montezuma. And he was sad. No, not one of those “sad clowns”; he was real-life sad. My wife even saw him cry; crying because Miranda reminded him of his estranged 3 year old daughter. Poor guy, we could tell that he truly loved kids. Luckily he didn’t jump overboard into the Gulf of Nicoya on the way over; we are sure of that because we saw him walking away from the ferry with colored hoops and other clown-like accessories.

The sad clown from behind.

Nice scenery

Miranda sleeping away the ferry ride.

The Puntarenas ferry drops you off near Paquera. As soon as you arrive, you know you have escaped the city. Its not just for the absence of traffic and buildings nor the surrounding hills covered in green jungle. It’s also the guy on a horse clopping by, the vendors who don’t even bother in attempting to sell you dried plantain chips, the hot, lazy air. We didn’t have to laze around the port though because a bus met our ferry (does it meet each one?- I think so).  We hopped on with surfers, backpackers and locals and rumbled inland towards Tambor.

Tambor was about 1 hour drive through pastures and patches of forest. First we passed by the other Tambor that everyone talks about; the more well known Tambor-the Barcelo Tambor. This major resort is replete with golf course and a giant chess board (according to my father-in-law). It’s also beyond our budget and even worse, they make you wear a bracelet during your stay. If I ever by chance stay there I am going to hide my bracelet to see what happens; maybe you will read about me kung-fu fighting with the security. After the bracelet Barcelo and nearby airfield (yes you can fly there if you don’t want to meet any clowns or drunken people on the ferry) we were dropped off in Tambor center. This doesn’t sound as obvious as it might read; just a cluster of houses along the highway and a road off to the left going by a church. Yep, that’s Tambor, that’s just about everything as far as the town goes. This is one of these places where you really have to watch for a sign (which they luckily have). Hopping off the bus into the hot tropical sun, we walked over to the Cabinas Christina. We had read a lot about this place; nice cheap rooms, good restaurant, etc. We sat down and had much needed coffees (now addicted, what do you want- I live in Costa Rica) and then had a strange time finding out about room rates and availability. The lady in charge was vague about whether or not such and such room was available and kept stressing a more expensive room with cable TV. Even after I said that the TV didn’t matter and that we weren’t going to watch it, she just kept on about that darn TV. Maybe it was because the town has so little to do? In any case, I finally saw the room with the cable TV and realized why she stressed this amenity so much. The cable TV was pretty much the only amenity that $35 box with a bed had to offer. Not only did we need two beds, but my wife was feeling especially non-plussed with the odd behavior of these people so while we waited for the bill, I walked back up the road to the Cabinas Bosque. Unlike the Christina people, the Bosque gang were straighforward with the room price, it was cheaper ($24 with fan), nicer and they had vacancy. I ran back to the Christina, paid our bill and walked over to the Bosque where we established ourselves nicely.

Although we lacked the famed cable TV in our room, the Bosque offers this amenity in their more expensive room along with air for double the price. The Bosque was a nice place overall with fair birding and Howler Monkeys that came through the grounds every afternoon. We got pretty close to them!

Tambor beach was a ten minute walk from the hotel. Very quiet and with a wide stretch of sand, the water also looked pretty shallow. If you are looking for a tranquil, lonely beach lacking the glitz of over-developed areas, this one might be for you!

For eats, we saw one sketchy-looking restaurant with an unshaven drunken fellow stumbling around inside and a beautiful, expensive one. Yep, just those two options along the beach itself unless you catch and eat your own fish in the lagoon (something I plan on doing next time). In town there wasn’t much to choose from either. There was the internet-hyped Christina restaurant- we ate lunch there our first day. Sandwiches were good but absolutely no-frills and overpriced. We were also non-plussed by their menu that conveniently left out the taxes. In Costa Rica most places (and possibly by law) post their prices with taxes included. This is important when taxes are 23%. Outside of town along the main highway was a Trattoria. This looked very good and was run by an authentic Italian family . It was pricey too but looked worth it (unlike the Christina). There was a friendly soda just across the street from and to the right of the entrance to Tambor center. This place has no sign but looks like a typical small soda. The woman who runs the place was very friendly and talkative. Some of her family entertained Miranda while we ate. For that alone I would recommend this place over any other in Tambor. The dinner plate was pretty good too; I had breaded Mahi-Mahi with rice and beans, etc. for about $5. Two blocks further down the highway towards Paquera is another restaurant at the Coral Hotel. Very nice restaurant/bar; our waiter was very friendly and helpful. The food and drink were also good and moderately priced. If you go to Tambor, don’t bother with the Christina- eat and drink at this place. There was also a supermarket in town that had most of everything (closed on Sundays).

Tambor beach was pretty quiet and you might get bored but at least more touristy Montezuma is only a 30 minute bus ride away. The few days we spent were worth it and I hope to go back albeit with my own transportation to explore other beaches in the area. If you take the ferry, whatever you do, don’t put your feet in the seats!

Categories
Costa Rica living Introduction weather

When to visit Costa Rica; not in October

Although Costa Rica is always fun to visit, some months are better than others. Two months to avoid unless you absolutely adore buckets and bathtubs of rain are October and November. October is typically the worst month of the year for rain and I’m not talking about pleasant downpours ot cool you off. No, more like giant faucets in the sky left open for too long that will remind you of a story about Noah the animal lover. The rain itself isn’t so bad (although most locals, my wife included, seem to be afraid of getting wet), but the results are; annual flooding, landslides and closed roads. At least the rest of the year isn’t too bad and I still prefer all this water over a cold, snowy, breaking the ice off your car winter. The frequent rain can be tiresome though. It’s especially bad when a cold front from the north stews like an airborn whirlpool directly above the country. I witnessed one of those temporadas when it rained for nearly all of November, 1999. And I mean nearly all, not just a downpour or two rain each day. No, CONSTANT rain day and night; it just didn’t stop! It let up and now and then to mist but the water kept coming for nearly a month. It was driving me nuts! At least I could escape it by visiting the Pacific slope as the torrents from the sky were limited to the Caribbean slope. In general though, the worst flooding occurs on the Pacific slope. At this moment, much of Parrita near Quepos is under water as are several areas of Guanacaste. The nightly news shows scenes of flooding every along with other related stories such as; 3 people bit by snakes displaced by the rains, closed roads, and various accidents; the worst of which were some poor guy who died along the road up to Monteverde and a couple kids who were crushed by a falling wall while they slept).     

No, October isn’t the best of times to visit Costa Rica. Don’t be fooled by cheap tour packages. I mean, you can still have a good trip but there is an excellent chance that you will have problems getting around and might not be able to visit sites on your itinerary so I think it is worth considering a visit at some other time of the year.  

Here is a link to the Tico Times with english articles about Costa Rica, including the weather. This week’s edition shows someone wading through a flooded area near an oil palm plantation. Since terribly venemous Fer-de-Lance snakes thrive in oil palm plantations, you couldn’t pay me enough to wade through that water! 

 

 

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Birding Costa Rica Costa Rica living Introduction

A day of birding Costa Rica at Irazu volcano

With Costa Rica being such a great place for birding and retirement, it’s no wonder that there is an English speaking birding club. The appropriately named “Birding club of Costa Rica” gets together every month for a field trip; some of which I get to guide! We have very few meetings because when you can get together for awesome tropical birding, the need for metings in a boring hall somewhere is pretty much naught. The club has been all over the country and has also done international trips. A few weeks ago, we stayed domestic though and visited Irazu volcano. We had a beautiful day high above the central valley, I actually picked up a lifer and the September rains waited until we were done birding.


We started at a bridge overlooking a forested ravine. The jade foliage below glinted in the morning sun that also lit up nearby hedgerows and onion fields The sweet scent of hay and crisp mountain air reminded me of June mornings in Pennsylvania where I saw so many of my first bird species; Eastern Bluebirds, Orchard Oriole, Yellow-throated Vireo, stately Great Blue Herons, etc. Some of the birds on Irazu reminded me of Pennsylvania too; Red-tailed Hawks soaring overhead, Hairy Woodpeckers calling from the trees, an Eastern Meadowlark singing the same lazy song from a nearby field. Most of the birds though, ensured us that we were in the high mountains of Costa Rica; mountains with forests of immense oaks draped in bromeliads and moss, dark forests hiding Quetzals, Flame-colored Tanagers, Black-billed Nightingale Thrushes, Collared Redstarts and much more. Hummingbirds are especially common up there; at the bridge we got our first looks at the smallest species; Volcano Hummingbird.

Here on Irazu, they have a purplish gorget.

We also had our first of many Acorn Woodpeckers; here at the southern limit of their range in the high montain forests dominated by Oak species.

and Flame-colored Tanager. This is a female.

And lots of Long-tailed Silkies.

After the bridge, we headed further uphill accompanied by fantastic mountain scenery,

and lots of Sooty Robins. Once you see these, you know you have reached the temperate zone. They remind me of Eurasian Blackbirds.

Our next stop was the best and with good reason; it’s the only place along the roadside with fairly intact forest. I don’t know what the name of the stop here is but you can’t miss it; aside from the only spot with good forest, there are signs advertising a volcano museum and the Nochebuena restaurant. Although things were pretty quiet at the stream, on past trips I have seen birds like:

Black and Yellow Silky. Once they find a berry-filled bush, they sit there and fatten up!- a lot like their cousins the Waxwings.

Black-billed Nightingale Thrush is another common, tame species. The tail is usually longer than that of this young bird.

Since it was quiet at the stream, we walked back uphill near some good forest. We didn’t have to go far before we saw the best bird of the day. Upon checking out some angry hummingbirds, I saw a rufous colored lump on a tree and immediately knew we had an excellent bird and for myself a lifer I have waited 16 years to get; Costa Rican Pygmy Owl!! Although I have heard these guys a few times, I have never been lucky enough to see one until the BCCR trip up Irazu. Luckily, it was cooperative enough for everyone to get great looks through the scope at this beautiful little owl. The color of this creature was amazing; a mix of reddish clay so saturated with rufous that it had purplish hues.

Here it is being annoyed by a Fiery-throated Hummingbird.

And here it is looking at us.

And here are some BCCR members showing their best Costa Rican Pygmy Owl faces.

Amazingly, just after the owl, we actually had the avian star of the Costa Rican highlands; a male Resplendent Quetzal! A few of us caught of glimpse of this odd, shining bird in flight and sure enough there it was!- a Quetzal deep within the foliage of the tree whose fruit Quetzals prefer; the aquacatillo or wild avocado. It didn’t stay long enough though to get a picture so you will have to take my word for it. Actually, Quetzals aren’t that rare in Costa Rica. They aren’t exactly dripping off the trees, but if you bird the high mountain forests, you will probably see one.

After the Quetzal, we got more nice looks at Hummingbirds and close looks at another highland endemic and one of the easiest Empidonax Flycatchers to identify; Black-capped Flycatcher.

We eventually made our way up to the national park entrance, some of us deciding to venture in, others continuing with the birding along a road off to the right just before the entrance. This road passes through paramo, thick stunted forest and eventually reaches taller forest further downhill. Would love to explore it for a day as it looked very promising. We had a few Volcano Juncos here, Flame-throated Warblers, many Slaty Flowerpiercers and a few other species. Despite our attempts to coax a Timberline Wren out into the open, we had to settle for just hearing them sing from the dense undergrowth.

On a scouting trip, we opted to visit the crater.

Be very careful with valuables in the parking lot here. I have heard of people getting their car cleaned of all their stuff during a short 20 minute visit!

Coatis are up here too always looking for handouts. Their claws remind me of Bears up north.

We lunched back down at the Nochebuena restaurant. This is a cozy place with fireplace and something far more rare than a quetzal; real pecan pie! You can also sit outside and be entertained by the hummingbird feeders. Fiery-throateds were the most common species.

This was a good place to study the difference between those and Magnificent Hummingbirds. The Magnificent has a stronger, all dark bill, the female more markings on the face.

Here is a nice look at Volcano Hummingbird showing the dark central tail feathers; a main field mark in separating it from the very similar Scintillant Hummingbird.

After lunch, it was time to head back down hill to the urbanization and traffic of the central valley. Fortunately for us in Costa Rica, it’s pretty easy to escape for a day to peaceful high mountain forests.

Categories
Birding Costa Rica Costa Rica living weather

The Costa Rica Meteorological Institute

Its the rainy season and its not going to get any drier until December. In fact, the next two months are when it pours buckets of water sometimes night and day. The combination of lower light levels and a hydrophobic camera make bird photography very challenging. But, I have an excellent resource on my side to help me choose the best day to head out and practice patience with the birds. The trick up my sleeve, the ace in the hole, is the National Meteorological Institute of Costa Rica. They have been consistently accurate and also provide forescasts by region. Its especially helpful since the daily newspaper doesn’t bother with the weather. Maybe they figure its too predictable; hot in the lowlands, cooler in the mountains with rain most of the time! Ha!- this is a mere generalization; some days in rains more than others or its sunny only in the morning. These subtle factors are critical for me in deciding when I will head out for bird pics. Although the site is in Spanish, it should still be helpful to non-Spanish speakers and is a great resource for anyone on their way to Costa Rica.

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Costa Rica living Introduction

Costa Rica Independence Day

Today, September 15th, is Independence Day for Costa Rica! This means a national day off to commemorate when Costa Rica declared independence from Spain in 1821. It also means an end to band practice at the Mauro Fernandez high school in Tibas with a concurrent commencement of afternoon peace for the surrounding neighborhood. For the past three months our neighborhood has been witness to the daily afternoon ritual of drum and xylophone madness. Interestingly enough, this torrent of sound seemed to coincide with the start of the daily afternoon downpours. It was like a staccato competition; the fury of adolescent angst against rain pounding on tin roofs. All this practice was meant for today when the band got to march through Tibas and sonically demonstrate why they are failing their classes. They marched along with several other school bands in a parade that lasted for about three hours. We watched the latter half of the parade along with hundreds of other people from the main park in Tibas. We missed the first half because we have a one month old baby. I think that’s going to be my excuse for everything. Like if someone asks me why I think it’s Tuesday when it’s Wednesday, where I have been, what have I been up to, I will show them a picture of Miranda. It was cool to see the second half though and didn’t miss our neighborhood high school because they finished up the parade.

When we got to the park, there were people everywhere. I don’t know where they came from. I mean I see very few people on the streets of residential Tibas. I guess they stay in their houses, watch TV and drink coffee (based upon experience with my mother in law). Well, they all came out today to watch the parade, drink “Imperial” (beer of Costa Rica), socialize and drink more Imperial. My father in law was one of those. In fact, he came down from the hills to watch the Tibas show (he lives higher up in Moravia). He said it was like driving through a labyrinth of parades to get here but it was worth it. Paul likes fiestas of all sorts; one of his favorite activities is singing karaoke at his house. Here he is shading his partner, Julieta, who in turn is helping Miranda partake in her drink of choice.

  

Here’s a patriotic shot of flag carriers passing in front of the church where we got married.

 

These kids announced the arrival of their school; Kamuk. I don’t know where that name came from but it makes me think of elephants.

 

 

Much of the Kamuk school carried placards denouncing television. Seriously, they were very anti-TV. These kids dressed as firefighters have a sign that says, “No more Tricks! TV producers respect us! You need us kids to help you with TV shows.”

 

 

This semi threw me for a loop until I realized it was carrying a float.

 

 

Then the float through me for a loop because it looked like it was full of garbage! Check out the fake Great-tailed Grackles picking at garbage next to some dirty kids.

 

 

It was actually a pro-recycling float and even had a singer! I couldn’t hear what she was saying but suppose it was something along the lines of, “Recycle, recycle before you are all smudgy and have to fight over garbage with

Great-tailed Grackles!” On the back of the float, a sign read, “Together we make a culture of peace”.

 

 

Kamuker girl scouts; sorry, no cookies today.

 

 

Most schools had someone dressed up like a red-cross worker. Poor kid; looks like he’s thinking of rescuing himself after marching around for hours in the tropical heat.

 

One school saluted the crowd.

 

 

 

There were even a few of these traditional “mascaradas”- giant puppet/mask like things meant to entertain and/or frighten (kind of like clowns except not as scary).

 

 

I think this one was supposed to be Che or Fidel saying, “Watch out kids! Here I come with my own special brand of forced socialism!”

 

The Mascaradas came with a cool pro-ecological truck.

 

 

There were also kids in traditional dress parading…

 

and in the audience.

 

Costa Rican majorettes.

 

 

Last but not least, the Mauro Fernandez band arrives on the scene with flags…

 

 

and then the fruits of the drumming practice we had been force fed. I must admit that their practice paid off and by the amount of applause they received I think the rest of Tibas agreed. 

 

Categories
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!

Categories
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.

Categories
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.