Like all people, birders have hopes and dreams too. Some of us dream of seeing glittering tanager flocks or laying eyes on the wacky Bornean Bristlehead (yes, that is a real bird, check it out!). Others hope to see cool species in uncommon places with good friends, or chancing upon a fallout at our favorite birding spots. Years ago, I was fortunate to have that latter dream come true on more than occasion but one September morning in 1984 stands out. I was on Goat Island, right above the Cataracts of Niagara, and it seemed like every bush and tree was full of warblers. On that dreamy day of yore, it was birding madness, I got my lifer Prairie Warbler without even using binoculars.
Us birders also literally dream about birds; amazing dreams of multicolored species that don’t actually exist, of birds that talk, or finding a shrike in Costa Rica (I had that dream once, it was incredibly vivid, I suppose a reflection of how much I would love such an unlikely occurrence to take place). The title of this post sounds like one of those dreams because ha, how could you ever chase a Pochard in Costa Rica? A Pochard is basically a Redhead-Canvasbackish bird that lives in Europe. It’s pretty common there but it doesn’t usually fly across the Atlantic.
Well….it looks like one might have done just that in recent times. On April 21st, one of the excellent birding guides at Rancho Naturalista, Steven Montenegro, found a duck of great interest at Lago Angostura. It looked like maybe a Redhead, or maybe a Canvasback, or maybe a hybrid of the two. When bird photographers Adrian Alvarado Rivera and Danny J Alvarado got much better images of the bird, two other top guides at Rancho; Meche Alpizar and her husband Harry Barnard, thought of another possibility; the Common Pochard. Since Harry had seen plenty of those, I thought, “Well, I suppose it just might be one of those ducks!”
After taking into account that there have been a couple records from the Caribbean Sea, and that the color of the head and, especially, the pattern on the bill looked very much like that of a Common Pochard, we couldn’t stay home. No, not when a crazy possible Costa Rica first was within range!
Check out a photo of the bird here.
On Sunday morning, dreaming of Common Pochards, we ended up making the hour and 45 minute, very scenic drive to Turrialba. It was a beautiful, sunny morning of roads winding through pasture on verdant volcanic slopes above Cartago. We surely passed through territories of the uncommon Grass Wren, but not wanting to waste any time, we made a bee-line for the lake. This involved passing through the town of Turrialba, driving past the entrance to CATIE, and taking the road by the new hospital. This road then continued through fields of sugarcane before reaching a wooded area on the left. At the first rocky road through the woods on the left, we drove on in and down towards the lake.
Our hopes weren’t exactly lifted when a local birding couple mentioned that they had NOT seen the duck and that perhaps the birds had been scared by a kayak moving back and forth, in the open waters between the water hyacinths. However, they did tell us where to look and already being in the area, we of course decided to do just that. On we went, reaching the lake overlook where we also met Adrian Alvarado, one of the bird photographers who had seen the bird, had taken a key photo. Adrian told us where to look and where he and other local birders have seen ducks, marsh birds, and other interesting species over the years.
Unfortunately, he had not seen the duck on that bright Sunday morning. American Golden Plover, yes (!) but no duck. Not ready to give up, we moved along the road near the lake and carefully scanned as many nooks and crannies of hyacinth that we could, eventually even paying a small entrance fee to check for ducks from an overlook.
The overlook would have been great, I bet there are rafts of ducks on other days but the birding at this choice spot was likewise marred by watersports; in this case, by a loud and very obtrusive jetski. Our Pochard dream nearly became a nightmare as a man zipped around the edge of the lake. He was taking his three or four year old for a ride, she was surely enjoying it but also literally hanging on to the handlebars for dear life. Thankfully, the only tragedy was an absence of birds but at least we didn’t leave that part of the lake empty-handed!
We managed to see a year Limpkin, and, after hearing several birds fussing over something, I found a Bird-eating Snake in a tree!
We got to watch the snake as long as we wanted before heading back to the first spot to see if the jetskis had scared any birds over that way. Alas, no dice on the ducks but at least a Snail Kite flew into view, and we also briefly met Diego Ramirez (Mr. Birding) teaching a group of local birders before we made the trek back to the other end of the Central Valley.
The possible Pochard hasn’t been seen again and it may have moved on but I hope it’s nearby, I hope we or someone else finds that fantastic and unexpected mega for Costa Rica. I mean, that’s the sort of stuff birding dreams are made of.
The bird in question hasn’t been accepted yet for the official list, it may still end up being a hybrid. No matter what it is, hopefully it will be found again!