This March, we travelled to Costa Rica and joined an eleven-day “Birding with a Camera” tour organized by Tropical Birding. In keeping with our “Travels with a Fox” theme, we brought along our little fox mascot. In the photo below, the fox is tucked into the arms of a decorative frog which was on the wall of one of the lodges. The little fox will be included in various photos throughout the blog, but not pointed out, so it will be a bit of a “search and find” exercise.
This blog covers the first three days in San Jose, Hotel Robledal and the road trip to Gualipes.
We spent a few days in San Jose before the tour to acclimatize. We stayed close to the city centre in Hotel Grano de Oro, one of the best hotels in the city.
Our room on the second floor had a terrace with overlapping roofs that allowed air to come in but no rainfall.
Here’s a view of the hallway right outside our door. The restaurant is below in the central courtyard, which allowed for good airflow when the windows were open. There was no air-conditioning, yet it was comfortable.
The food was amazing. The photo below was taken after 8 pm on the night we arrived, so there were less people there than the next night when we ate earlier. The hotel only has 37 rooms, so we were never crowded.
One day we reserved a spot for a hot tub on a roof-top terrace.
The Sabana Metropolitan Park was a fifteen minute walk away from the hotel, so we went there one morning for some birding on our own. If you do an internet search about this park, you will see images of a beautiful park surrounding a large lake. The lake is now totally dried up and looks like it hasn’t had water in it for quite awhile. But is was a large open space and we got some exercise and saw some birds.
Here is a weathered wooden statue carved from a stump. Most of the structures in the park were done in the 1970s and they are showing their age.
We located a pair of noisy Orange-chinned Parakeets. Because we were looking up at them, we could see their orange “chins” easily. Although we had seen this species in a previous trip to the tropics, it was the first time that we had found and identified these birds by ourselves.
We searched out a Rufous-collared Sparrow because we had read that although it was a common sparrow throughout the middle and upper elevations, it was not found in forests. It turned out that we saw plenty of these sparrows throughout the trip, but we think the first one that we saw was pretty special.
The Sabana Metropolitan Park is on land that used to be an airport. Adjacent to the park, is the Costa Rican Museum of Art, which is housed in the old terminal building. The building was opened as an air terminal in April of 1940 and its neo-colonial style was typical of Latin American architecture of the time. It served as an international air terminal until 1958.
We visited the museum one morning. Below is a photo of the Golden Room which used to be the diplomatic room of the former airport. The stucco mural covers all four walls and depicts Costa Rican history from pre-Columbian to 1940. It also includes plants and animals of the region.
There are other permanent displays outside in the sculpture garden. We like to call this one, “Bumpy Soccer Field” or for Latin America is could be “Bumpy Football Field” but its real name is “Heterotopia.” There seems to be a lot of deep thinking involved in this kind of art.
We also walked the other direction from our hotel towards downtown, to the Central Market. It is an enclosed city block and is full of all kinds of shops. Wendy bought a couple of handbags, but mostly we were there to experience the place.
Soon it was time to join the group at Hotel Robledal that was located close to the airport in Alajuela. We enjoyed a cool swim in the pool.
The grounds were home to many birds.
There were two Feruginous Pygmy-Owls roosting in the trees just outside our balcony.
These Spot-breasted Orioles were new to us. Both males and females have similar colouring.
We took a long detour on our way to our first lodge, that took us over the Central Mountains to Guapiles and the Caribbean region of Costa Rica. Near Guapiles, we visited a private home that had set up a bird-viewing area for visiting birders.
We got very good views of a Montezuma Oropendola. Oropendolas produce bizarre gurgling and rasping noises. They nest in colonies and produce long pendulous nests.
Here are two Green Honeycreepers. The species is named for the female one (the green one), and not the black-headed blue one (the male).
This pretty bird is a male Red-legged Honeycreeper. Honeycreepers feed on fruits, insects and nectar.
A guide from the “Guapiles Feeder Place” (our name for it), came with us and we loaded into our bus and headed out to a nearby location.
We tromped through some rutted fields to an owl roosting location. We saw a pair of Crested Owls, but they were quite obscured behind branches. Two days later we had a better view of the same species, so the later photo will be on the blog.
We took another forest trail so we could see Honduran white bats (Ectophylla alba) also known as Caribbean white tent-making bats. These bats build “tents” out of Heliconia plant leaves that they first cut carefully with their teeth. Here the local guide and our tour guide are looking at the roosting bats.
Here is a photo that Doug took with his cell phone. They are really tiny bats with wingspans of no more than 10 cm. They are frugivorous, preferring one species of fig which means that habitat loss will greatly impact the population numbers.
Our local guide took us to another location that was a known roosting spot for a Great Potoo. The nocturnal potoo looks so much like a stub of a branch that it isn’t concerned about being harassed while it sleeps the day away.
We continued our route to our first lodge: Rancho Naturalista in the Central Caribbean Foothills. The next blog will be about our adventures there.