|Endangered Tiger Frog|
We woke at 6 am found ourselves still 2 hours to port. I had no longer pulled open the shade to our balcony that a lone Brown Booby was gliding just out from the boat at eye-level. Light was still low, and I knew that any photo opps would be futile since the camera would fog as soon as I stepped out of the cabin. So, I packed up all the gear, including scope and tripod, and took it out on the balcony to warm up.
Out to the west, as we began to see land in sight, heavy dark clouds hung low over the water. A large storm was breaking out just a quarter mile from us and heading our way. We could see the deluge of rain moving like an isolated curtain heading toward us, and we stopped to see if it would reach the ship; it wouldn’t. It moved on as we passed and soon dissipated in the distance. Meanwhile, the boobies drifted away from the ship and were soon joined by 4 more birds as they disappeared to the east. As we approached land I spotted a large island just off shore: Bird Island. It was home to nesting Magnificent Frigatebirds, Brown Boobies and Great-tailed Grackles. It was a stunning, tiny island, with a large, flat lagoon surrounded by rocks that looked like the perfect vacation setting for visiting birders. Grey-breasted Martins were swarming in small flocks as we pulled into port, and docked next to roosting Laughing Gulls, and Royal and Sandwich Terns.
We were headed to Puerto Limon, Costa Rica today, and I was anticipating a great birding day. I had signed up for a trip to the Veragua Rainforest interpretive station high up in the Veragua Rainforest. There, students from the Universidad de Costa Rica and The Foundation For Rainforest Research were studying and collecting reptiles, amphibians, butterflies, and insects from the region. Steven, our guide, would lead us through the large interpretive center and describe the research of local flora and fauna that thrive there. In the meantime, though, we drove a large tour bus through portions of the port town and high into the mountain region.
Along the way passed a small park, where I spotted a pair of Clay-colored Thrushes, Costa Rica’s National Bird! Tiny, rufous-colored Ruddy Ground Doves perched on fenceposts. Rooftops held numerous Rock Pigeons and Great-tailed Grackles. I spotted a pair of Northern Jacanas in a roadside ditch. The town itself was a scattering of rundown shacks, cottages, and construction companies that one would expect in a port town.
As we turned off the main highway and onto the dirt road into the highlands the landscape was replaced by more of the Costa Rican jungle. Indigenous peoples lived in this region, and they tended small farms that grew cacao, plantains, and other local produce. I attempted to get some pics through the window of the bus at the rolling hills and open fields, but it was not easy. I was desperately trying to identify unknown birds that would appear for fleeting moments. Pairs of Passerini’s Tanagers would fly by – the males black with stunning, scarlet rumps that flashed as they flew. They would be replaced in the southern portion of the country by Cherrie’s Tanagers, which are very similar in appearance.
Blue-black Grasquits were very common in this region; again, the males tiny little, all-black birds with lighter-colored females. Great-tailed Grackles and Bronzed Cowbirds could be seen in the distant lawns of the small schoolyards that dotted our travels. Every once in a while I’d see the flash of a yellow tail from one of the local Oropendola blackbirds, but couldn’t see well enough to determine what species.
With three tour buses arriving at the same time we reached the Veragua Rainforest Station. We split into small groups of approximately 30 people each and were assigned interpretors. Steven remained with my group and gave us the tour of the place. Jungle was thick in this area, with an infinite number of trees, plants and orchids everywhere. Butterflies were also abundant, with native species of clearwings, heliconias and Blue Morphs appearing everywhere. I saw a small falcon atop a tree, but could not see it in the backlight to determine what species (possibly a forest falcon or bat falcon). The sun was shining, and few clouds were around, but we were warned that it could rain at any time; it did.
A loud, creepy-sounding call from the canopy brought thoughts of monkeys calling, but they were coming from Montezuma’s Oropendolas. I managed a few rump shots of one bird, with its black head, rufous body and bright yellow tail. They were common here. An easier target was a pair of Swallow-tailed Kites that floated overhead. Skies were deeply overcast at this point so they appeared as silhouettes.
As we stepped inside the amphibian building to see displays of other frogs the power to the building went out, sending us into complete darkness. We continued our tour with the use of a small flashlight. When the power came back on we were able to go downstairs to see the lab where the frogs and butterflies were being studied. We spent 15 minutes walking through the butterfly garden, where the rest of the tour’s members loved; they were all gardeners. Blue Morph Butterflies were abundant, and everywhere. Unfortunately, they’re not much to look at when they land. They are only gorgeous in flight (and impossible to photograph).
The tour then loaded into open-air gondolas (large cages) for a trip 1200 meters down to the bottom of the rainforest station. We heard Howler Monkeys, but couldn’t see any of them. We also had an opportunity to see how expansive the rainforest was. Steven could not even estimate the size of the region, as it blends into other rainforest habitats. A century’s old Mahogany Tree was a nice find; fortunately cutting is no longer permitted in this mountain region. At the bottom of the station we had the opportunity to see a Two-toed Sloth, but it was sleeping high in a tree just out of view. At the end of the boardwalk was a dry steam bed where a Three-toed Sloth was also seen; sleeping. Better yet, though, I spotted a Sunbittern flush from the stream side! Steven asked if I had seen it, since we both only caught a flash of its gorgeous wings. Great bird! Then the skies opened.
We high-tailed it back to the gondola station, getting soaked with about 3” rain in about 10 minutes. I used my hat to protect the camera / flash system and managed to keep it relatively dry. Once we dried ourselves off we took the gondola back up. We spotted Dusky-Faced Tanagers and heard a flock of Red-lored Parrots along the way, but again had no opportunities to photograph them; I put the camera away until we were back on top.
I also spotted a pair of Long-tailed Tyrants, a small black flycatcher with long tail streamers. A White Hawk was seen flying across the field at a distance; I thought Cattle Egret at first, but black in the wings and more of a hawk shape led me to the latter conclusion. Several pairs of Blue Dacnis were seen flying across the fields; from a distance they look like Indigo Buntings, but showed more of an azure-blue or cerulean blue coloration.
Up ahead a small family of Howler Monkeys was feeding in the trees. Again, lots of boat maneuvering allowed everyone decent looks at the family, but photography was difficult. Roosting Vampire Bats were a bit more cooperative.
The bus trip back to the ship would bring a few more sightings of Short-billed Pigeons, Blue-black Grasquits, a pair of Palm Tanagers, and a possible Gray Kingbird; this ID is a bit tenuous as the birds are rare, but it looked like one of many Tropical Kingbirds w/o any yellow. ?
We would arrive back at the ship just in time to clean up before disembarking. Overall, I very much enjoyed the day, but once again wished I had some non-moving time to just explore the areas. Great day, though. We hope to come back!