Thursday, 28 June 2018

Punta Leona, Costa rica (25th-31st March 2018)

I have already covered our first day at Punta Leona and our biridng "tour" with the resident bird guide. In this final post I'll cover what  I found over the course of our stay.

The Punta Leona estate is huge - it's 4 km from the accommodation to the entrance gate but much/most of the terrain is inaccessible and some that is accessible is near impossible to get around holding a camera and tripod. As a consequence places to bird are quite limited and many of those get  crowded even early in the morning.
Seen everywhere were the scarlet macaws as were great kiskadee and if you found something small flitting around chances were it was a chestnut side warbler normally in winter plumage or moult just to make id difficult. Hoffman's woodpecker was also common.

Great kiskadee

Hoffman's woodpecker

On the first morning with the guide we wandered around the area close to the reception area and down to the beach. This area is flat but a lot of it is covered with gardens and other facilities - spar, butterfly garden, maintenance work shops, swimming pool, supermarket and restaurants. The area wasn't that productive and most things you found were high in the canopy.

Behind our accommodation  was steep forested hillside and there was a short track into it that just petered out into a small open area. I wandered up here a couple of times and adopted the tactics of find somewhere in the shade and just wait for stuff to turn up. This was the most productive area I found  and I could even view some of this hillside from the seat outside our room.
Birds seen here included yellow headed caracara and broad winged hawk. A pair of rose throated becards were always present as were rufous naped-wren who were making a nest in the electricity wires.

Yellow-headed caracara

Broad-winged hawk

Rose-throated becard (female)

Streak headed woodcreeper, common xenops, social flycatcher, yellow-olive flycatcher, Baltimore oriole, red-legged honey creeper, buff throated saltator, and squirrel cuckoo were also seen in this area.

Squirrel cuckoo

Red-legged honeycreeper (female)

Plain xenops

Streak-headed treecreeper

Baltimore oriole

Buff-throated saltator
Social flycatcher

There was another track off the main road into the estate that looped above the maintenance workshops. I wandered this a couple of times but it wasn't very productive though it has to be said I never walked this track early morning, only in the afternoon when it was still hot.  Seen here were fiery billed aracari, streaked flycatcher, brown jay, great crested flycatcher, rose throated becard, golden hooded tanager

Fiery Billed aracari

Brown jay

Rose-throated becard

Birding from the main road was likewise not very productive in part due the near constant stream of traffic coming in and out of the estate and the large number of runners and walkers even at dawn. Seen whilst dodging the traffic were

Streaked flycatcher

Rose-breasted grosbeak

Chestnut-backed antbird

Red-billed pigeon

Just off the entrance road there were some marked hiking trails into the forest. I did try these out one morning but the terrain was so steep and difficult to walk (especially with a tripod) that I gave up after 100 yards or so.
Finally there was the beach area. I never did this early morning and at any other time it was very busy so I probably didn't get the best out of this area. It did however provide great views/photographs of Hoffman's woodpecker and scarlet macaw and I also saw palm tanager and inca dove. Pelicans and frigate birds could be seen out to sea but none came into the bay.

That's it. It was a great trip though I would do several things differently if I had the time again. What I wouldn't change was our time in the mountains with Miriam's and Savegra Lodge being fantastic as was the Tarcoles river trip. Now all I have to do is convince my wife we should go back!

Thursday, 31 May 2018

Carara national Park

We had 2  short trips to Carara. They were short because it was so hot. We had expected hot and humid but our stay on the Pacific coast was really hot - midday temps up to 37 and never below 35C. Indeed on the day of our Tarcoles river boat trip it was 31C at 8.30am.

Since we were more interested in photographing what we saw rather than accumulating a lot of ticks we did not use a guide; our thinking being if it was close enough to photograph then we should be able to see it. Small things flitting about the canopy were of little interest. The other factor was the cost. What we couldn't do was identify birds by call and try to whistle or tape lure them closer which is what quite a few guides seem to do. We will never know whether the cost would have been justified.

For our first trip we went along the Meandrica trail (near the river) and within 10 yards of entering the forest we found a pair of white whiskered puff birds only a few yards off the track.



So after 2 minutes I thought Carara was wonderful but after that thing got very slow. We did hear some manakins snapping but as we tried to locate them the calling faded then stopped completely. I also spotted a royal flycatcher - I'd  seen the bird moving through the forest about 20 yards away and had no idea what it was (and no chance of a photograph) when it raised it's crest - no mistaking that.
The orange billed sparrow was easy to id as was the black hooded antshrike (female) because we'd seen both of these earlier in the holiday. A chestnut backed antbird was a welcome addition to out list however.

female black-hooded antshrike

Chestnut-backed antbird (male)

Later on we found another pair of puffbirds, a white tipped dove and a male black hooded antshrike but that was it for the camera.

Male black-hooded antshrike

The wet area often discussed in write ups of this trail was dry and completely covered with 5-6ft high reeds. We saw no one else on this trail though a group of capuchins took exception to our presence and were very aggressive.

For our second trip we went along the main trail at park entrance and things got off to a lively start with a steely vented hummingbird by the car park and as soon as we started along the trail it was clear there were a lot more birds here. Many were high up and/or invisible but it was nice to see movement and hear bird song - something lacking for much of the Meandrica trail. To start we saw birds we'd already logged - orange billed sparrow and black hooded antshike (at least 2).

Steely-vented hummingbird

Black-hooded antshrike

Orange-billed sparrow

But a stop overlooking a stream gave us Northern waterthrush, grey-chested dove and yellow-olive flycatcher.

yellow-olive flycatcher

Grey chested dove

Moving on we found streak headed woodcreeper, several plain xenops and blue-back grosbeak.

Blue-black grosbeak

Plain xenops

Some rustling in the leaf litter had us peering into the gloom for several minutes before we spotted a thrush size bird almost completely immersed in the leaf litter. Eventually it came into view then very kindly hopped up onto a twig to consume it's catch:

Buff-throated foliage-gleaner

On the return leg we picked up a rufous winged woodpecker then had a pair of chestnut-backed antbirds hopping around in front of us coming within 10 yards.

Rufous winged woodpecker

Chestnut-backed antbird. (Top - male, bottom - female)

As the forest thinned we picked up streaked flycatcher and red-legged honeycreeper.

The final bird of the session was a gartered trogon again in the car park.

Not a huge list but quite a few flitters went unidentified and a number of chestnut-sided warblers were seen but not photographed.

All I can say is forest birding is difficult and when a bird is found the light conditions are truly appalling. To my mind a flash is essential. To illustrate this point here's a picture of the puffbird we saw on the Meandrica trail but taken using natural light - all I had was 1/60th sec at ISO 8000!!!!!.

Just about all you can say about this picture is you can see it's a puffbird and bin it.

Friday, 25 May 2018

Tarcoles River with Victours, Costa Rica (March 27th)

I'd booked a "Photographic and Birdwatching" trip on the Tarcoles river with Victours prior to the holiday. This was a private trip for the 4 of us with Vic himself as our guide (Victor Chaves). He'd asked if there was anything in particular I'd like to see during our correspondence and I gave him a list though I suspect all the species were on his normal itinary.
We met Vic in Tarcoles and had a coffee in one of the local cafes, then off to the boat at 6.00am
As we left the dock mangrove swallows surrounded the boat and landed on the bow and roof. They even followed the boat as we steamed along - I assume the boat scares insects off the water that they grab.

We'd only gone a few yards when the boat slowed and we went towards the bank for a ringed kingfisher and a few yards along there was a common black hawk.

Ringed kingfisher

Common black hawk

As we moved down river waders were ignored (although I fired off a few hopeful shots) but the boat slowed/stopped for anything a bit larger.

Black-necked stilt and willet

Bare-throated tiger heron - juvenile


Great blue heron

Down towards the estuary we moved into the mangroves getting close to yellow-crowned night heron and almost within touching distance of boat billed heron.

Yellow-crowned night heron

Red-winged blackbird

Boat-billed heron

Moving further into the mangroves we had osprey, roseate spoonbill, green heron, juvenile pelican. Overhead I spotted a couple of raptors and fired off a few shots in hope rather than expectation and whilst the shots are rubbish they clearly identify the bird as plumbous kites by the red underwing.

Green heron


Plumbous kite

We then went quite a way up a narrow channel and the boatman put the boat into the bank and held it there by holding onto some branches. Vic and the boatman scanned the bank but it was the boatman's son at the stern who spotted the target - a mangrove hummingbird. Eventually after few  minutes of direction everyone was on it and I'd even managed a few record shots.

As these are quite scarce and due to habitat loss and restricted range (Costa Rica mangroves really) they are regarded as endangered.

After this we made our way upstream seeing a number of herons species and getting superb views of a pair of roseate spoonbills.

Gt White Egret

White Ibis

Ringed Kingfisher

Little blue heron

Tricoloured heron

Roseate spoonbill

Eventually as the river narrowed we stopped and Vic and the boatman started whistling.  Soon we had several yellow-headed caracara and a turkey vulture within a few yards of the boat as the threw out small pieces of what looked like chicken.

Yellow-headed caracara

Turkey vulture

All to soon our time was up but even on the way back to the dock we were picking up new species.

Wood stork

Cattle egret

Bare-throated tiger heron

We had only seen crocodile distantly during the boat trip so when it was over we popped up to the Tarcoles bridge. There were plenty to see.

Then it was back to hotel in time for breakfast.